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AfPak is a neologism used within US foreign policy circles to designate Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 and Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 as a single theater of operations.This policy approach introduced by the Obama administration
Presidency of Barack Obama
The Presidency of Barack Obama began at noon EST on January 20, 2009 when he became the 44th President of the United States. Obama was a United States Senator from Illinois at the time of his victory over Arizona Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election...

 along with the cooperation of its top commanders and allies regards the nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan as having a single, dominant political and military situation that requires a joint policy objective. The term reflects the Obama administration's strategy of using a unified policy for dealing with the two countries as a part of the strategy pertaining to the War on Terror
War on Terror
The War on Terror is a term commonly applied to an international military campaign led by the United States and the United Kingdom with the support of other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as well as non-NATO countries...


That policy objective is to disrupt, dismantle, and prevent Al Qaeda and its affiliates from having a safe haven from which it can continue to operate and plot attacks against the U.S and its allies. This policy decision represents a shift from previous ways of thinking about Afghanistan as an independent problem that required a military solution. The current strategy is an attempt to win the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people, so that they may come to a newfound understanding of the ways in which the Taliban and Al Qaeda are having a negative influence on the Afghan, and Pakistani people and culture.


Michael Quinion
Michael Quinion
Michael Quinion is a British etymologist and writer. He runs the web site World Wide Words, devoted to linguistics. He graduated from Cambridge University, where he studied physical sciences after which he joined BBC radio as a studio manager.-Writer:...

 writes that the term began appearing in newspaper articles in February 2009. The term was popularized, and possibly coined, by Richard Holbrooke
Richard Holbrooke
Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke was an American diplomat, magazine editor, author, professor, Peace Corps official, and investment banker....

, the Obama administration's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In March 2008 (a year before he assumed that post) Holbrooke explained the motivation behind the term:

First of all, we often call the problem AfPak, as in Afghanistan Pakistan. This is not just an effort to save eight syllables. It is an attempt to indicate and imprint in our DNA the fact that there is one theater of war, straddling an ill-defined border, the Durand Line
Durand Line
The Durand Line refers to the porous international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has divided the ethnic Pashtuns . This poorly marked line is approximately long...

, and that on the western side of that border, NATO and other forces are able to operate. On the eastern side, it’s the sovereign territory of Pakistan. But it is on the eastern side of this ill-defined border that the international terrorist movement is located.


The term AfPak has entered the lexicon of geopolitics
Geopolitics, from Greek Γη and Πολιτική in broad terms, is a theory that describes the relation between politics and territory whether on local or international scale....

, and has made clear to the world that the primary fronts for the global war on terrorism lie in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has reinforced the message that the problems of Islamic religious extremism, and the resulting terror infrastructure and problems in the two countries are intertwined.

Official use of the term within the Obama administration has been echoed by the media, as in The Washington Post
The Washington Post
The Washington Post is Washington, D.C.'s largest newspaper and its oldest still-existing paper, founded in 1877. Located in the capital of the United States, The Post has a particular emphasis on national politics. D.C., Maryland, and Virginia editions are printed for daily circulation...

series The AfPak War and The Af-Pak Channel, a joint project of the New America Foundation
New America Foundation
The New America Foundation is a non-profit public policy institute and think tank with offices in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, CA. It was founded in 1999 by Ted Halstead, Sherle Schwenninger, Michael Lind and Walter Russell Mead....

 and Foreign Policy
Foreign Policy
Foreign Policy is a bimonthly American magazine founded in 1970 by Samuel P. Huntington and Warren Demian Manshel.Originally, the magazine was a quarterly...

magazine launched in August 2009.

Reaction in Pakistan

The term has been widely criticized in Pakistan. Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri is an Iranian-born conservative author based in Europe. His writings focus on the Middle East affairs and topics related to Islamist terrorism. He gained international fame as the man behind the 2006 Iranian sumptuary law controversy.-Career:Taheri's biography at Benador Associates...

 writes that Holbrooke's use of the term has been resented by many Pakistanis, who see Pakistan as "in a different league than the much smaller and devastated Afghanistan." Clifford May
Clifford May
Clifford D. May is an American journalist, editor, and political activist. He is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and the Chairman of the Policy Committee department within the Committee on the...

 writes that it is disliked by Afghans as well.

Pakistani journalist Saeed Shah who is a contributor to The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 newspaper mentioned that the international community have always had Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 and India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 bracketed together, and Pakistan always had, and still compares itself with India. He mentions that the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 has lumped Pakistan with Afghanistan under "Af-Pak", a diplomatic relegation, while India is lauded as a growing power. This is a key reason why Pakistan is seeking a nuclear deal with the US as parity with India.

In June 2009 former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
Pervez Musharraf
Pervez Musharraf , is a retired four-star general who served as the 13th Chief of Army Staff and tenth President of Pakistan as well as tenth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Musharraf headed and led an administrative military government from October 1999 till August 2007. He ruled...

 criticized the term in an interview with Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg. It is one of Europe's largest publications of its kind, with a weekly circulation of more than one million.-Overview:...


I am totally against the term AfPak. I do not support the word itself for two reasons: First, the strategy puts Pakistan on the same level as Afghanistan. We are not. Afghanistan has no government and the country is completely destabilized. Pakistan is not. Second, and this is much more important, is that there is an Indian element in the whole game. We have the Kashmir struggle
Kashmir conflict
The Kashmir conflict is a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region, the northwesternmost region of South Asia....

, without which extremist elements like Lashkar-e-Taiba
Lashkar-e-Taiba – also transliterated as Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Lashkar Taiba or LeT – is one of the largest and most active militant Islamist terrorist organizations in South Asia, operating mainly from Pakistan.It was founded by Hafiz Muhammad...

 would not exist.

India was also intended to be part of a wide regional strategy including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir
Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term Kashmir geographically denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range...

. However, the Indian lobbies successfully campaigned against such an idea.
Answering questions at a June 2009 press conference in Islamabad
Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and the tenth largest city in the country. Located within the Islamabad Capital Territory , the population of the city has grown from 100,000 in 1951 to 1.7 million in 2011...

, Holbrooke "said the term 'Afpak' was not meant to demean Pakistan, but was 'bureaucratic shorthand' intended to convey that the situation in the border areas on both sides was linked and one side could not be resolved without the other." In January 2010 Holbrooke said that the administration had stopped using the term: "We can't use it anymore because it does not please people in Pakistan, for understandable reasons."

See also

  • Afghanistan–Pakistan relations
  • Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence - U.S. think tank
  • Afghanistan–Pakistan Skirmishes, fighting between Afghanistan and Pakistan that began on May 13, 2007.
  • Civil War in Afghanistan
    Civil war in Afghanistan
    The Afghan civil war began when the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan took power in a military coup, known as the Saur Revolution, on 27 April 1978. Most of Afghanistan subsequently experienced uprisings against the unpopular Marxist-Leninist PDPA government. The Soviet Union...

  • Pashtunistan
    Pakhtunistan or Pashtunistan, meaning the "land of Pakhtuns" or "land of Pashtuns", is a modern term used for the historical region inhabited by the native Afghans or Pashtun since at least the 1st millennium BC...

  • South Asian foreign policy of the Barack Obama administration
    South Asian foreign policy of the Barack Obama administration
    For purposes of U.S. foreign policy, South Asia consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs is Robert O...