Open main menu

AfPak (or Af-Pak) was a neologism used within U.S. foreign policy circles to designate Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single theater of operations. Introduced in 2008, the neologism reflected the policy approach introduced by the Obama administration, which regarded the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan as having a single, dominant political and military situation that required a joint policy in the War on Terror.[1]

Following sharp criticism from Pakistan, condemning the hyphenation of the country's geopolitics with Afghanistan, the U.S. government stopped using the term in 2010.[2] When it is still used, AfPak is considered proper as it doesn't contain the hyphen. In 2017, the Trump administration expanded its Afghan policy to a regional South Asia strategy, which sought continued counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan and envisaged a greater economic role for India in Afghanistan.[3] The new approach has been dubbed "AfPakIndia".[4]


Michael Quinion writes that the term began appearing in newspaper articles in February 2009.[5] The term was popularized, and possibly coined, by Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.[6][7] 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, 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.[5]

According to the US government, the common policy objective was 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.[8] This policy decision represented a shift from previous ways of thinking about Afghanistan as an independent problem that required a military solution.[citation needed] The AfPak strategy was an attempt to win the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan and Pakistani people.[citation needed]

In 2009, US national security advisor Jim Jones proposed reversing the term to "PakAf," but Pakistanis resisted the suggestion that their nation was the primary source of difficulty, according to Bob Woodward in his book Obama's Wars.[9]


The term AfPak has entered the lexicon of geopolitics, and has made clear to the world that the primary fronts for the global war on terrorism lied in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time. It has reinforced the message that the threat to US from pro-terrorist activities masquerading as Islamic religious policy, and the resulting fear infrastructure and problems in the two countries are intertwined.[1]

In recent years, Syria has eclipsed at least Pakistan as containing the largest most dangerous groups of international terrorists operating within it. However Afghanistan and Pakistan still have significant problems with terrorists determined to operate on their soil.

Official use of the term within the Obama administration has been echoed by the media, as in The Washington Post series The AfPak War[10] and The Af-Pak Channel, a joint project of the New America Foundation and Foreign Policy magazine launched in August 2009.[11][12]

Related EventsEdit

In order to better enforce border security and to vitiate the cross border phenomenon that inspired the AfPak label, Pakistan has started constructing a border barrier. Pakistan hopes it will impede the illegal cross border traffic that various terror organizations depend on to maintain safe havens where they can plan attacks and hideout.


The term has been widely criticized in Pakistan.[2] Amir Taheri 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."[13] Clifford May writes that it is disliked by Afghans as well.[14]

Pakistani journalist Saeed Shah who is a contributor to The Guardian newspaper mentioned that the international community have always had Pakistan and India bracketed together, and Pakistan always had, and still in some ways, compares itself with India. This is due to the fact that Pakistan was a part of India before 1947. Pakistanis have never compared themselves with Afghans. He mentions that the United States 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.[15]

In June 2009 former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf criticized the term in an interview with Der Spiegel:

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, without which extremist elements like Lashkar-e-Taiba would not exist.[16]

As seen by Pakistan, India "should have been" part of a wide regional strategy including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir. However, the Indian government disposed of this proposition with ease.[17] Answering questions at a June 2009 press conference in Islamabad, 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."[18] 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."[2]

There is also criticism that while the complaint about the usage of the word included the term "hyphenation", solely addressing the issue by not using a hyphen misses the point. Even if the hyphen is not used some continue to look for reasons to not like the term.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "The AfPak Paradox". Foreign Policy In Focus. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Rogin, Josh (20 January 2010). "Team Obama scuttles the term "AfPak"". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
  3. ^ Mohseni, Saad (22 August 2017). "Trump's speech signals a strategy for South Asia, not just for Afghanistan". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  4. ^ Malhotra, Jyoti (22 August 2017). "President Donald Trump moves from 'AfPak' to 'AfPakIndia'". Indian Express. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  5. ^ a b Quinion, Michael (2009-04-18). "Afpak". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  6. ^ Safire, William (2009-04-23). "On Language: Wide World of Words". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  7. ^ Cooper, Helene (2009-02-26). "Obama reaps diplomatic windfall as goodwill lingers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Hajari, Nisid; Moreau, Ron (18 October 2010). "Up in Flames". Newsweek.
  10. ^ "Obama's War". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ admin (4 October 2010). "AfPak Behind the Lines: Afghanistan's elections". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  12. ^ Ricchiardi, Sherry (August–September 2009). "Assignment AfPak". American Journalism Review. Archived from the original on 2009-09-05. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  13. ^ Taheri, Amir (2009-01-05). "Pakistan and the Mad Mullahs of the Mountain". Asharq Alawsat. Archived from the original on 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  14. ^ Clifford D. May (16 July 2009). "- National Review". National Review Online. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  15. ^ Shah, Saeed (2010-03-22). "Pakistan pushes US for nuclear technology deal". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 30 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  16. ^ "SPIEGEL Interview with Pervez Musharraf: Obama 'Is Aiming at the Right Things'". Der Spiegel. 2009-06-07. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  17. ^ Laura Rozen (24 January 2009). "India's stealth lobbying against Holbrooke's brief". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  18. ^ "India has role to play in Afghanistan: Holbrooke". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 2009-06-06.