In the midst of the Obama administration's policy review on Afghanistan a new word was born: Afpak, meaning Afghanistan and Pakistan. Strategists want to encourage the executors of strategy and policy to think of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a unified theater of operations. The border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan demands a unified approach if NATO and the U.S. are to defeat the Taliban. So, Afpak it is.
Am Nabak is a fine place for camels. It is rocky and dry, and getting drier. The water table can't support the current population of a few camels and around 17,000 refugees from the war in Darfur, so water is brought in overland by truck. The camp is situated scant 25 kilometers from the Darfur border. This is too close to the war zone by United Nations standards; it was only supposed to be a transit camp through which refugees passed on their way to more permanent and secure camps. But the refugees have settled in at Am Nabak and, despite the urging of the UN Refugee Agency, prefer to remain close to the border.
Three years ago the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque, a Shi’ah holy site in Samarra, triggered a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq that led to massive displacement. At one point five million Iraqis - 20% of the population - was displaced by violence between Sunni and Shi’ah Muslims.
Recently, the displacement has slowed, and in some cases it is reversing. "Some Iraqis are returning, but their conditions in places of return are extremely difficult," The International Organization for Migration reported in its most recent Emergency Needs Assessment. "Many returnees are coming back to find destroyed homes and infrastructure in disrepair. Buildings, pipe and electrical networks, and basic public services such as health care centers are all in need of rehabilitation to meet the needs of returning IDP (internally displaced persons) and refugee families."
Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has provided Pakistan with $11 billion in military aid, a staggering sum in both absolute terms and when compared with non-military assistance. Not surprisingly, Pakistan wants this financial and logistical support to its armed forces to continue. President Asif Ali Zardari, in a recent Washington Post op-ed, urged the U.S. to “give [Pakistan] the necessary resources – upgrading [their] equipment and providing the newest technology – to fight terrorists…”
The decision to issue an arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been the source of many intense discussions here in Sudan at the moment. This will be the first ICC arrest warrant ever issued for a sitting president. Since I arrived in Sudan a couple of weeks ago I have talked with many Sudanese people who are members of civil society and human rights organizations, most of whom are no fans of their president, but who have varying views on the indictment.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Afghanistan just one week before the inauguration, indicating the new administration’s foreign policy priorities. It is clear that America’s “to do” list in Afghanistan is a long one. But the first order of business should be regaining the trust of Afghans.
After seven years of international presence, the country is still facing tremendous challenges: a weak government, a fledging economy, a serious humanitarian situation and a growing insurgency. As the Vice President himself said on his return, "The truth is that things are going to get tougher in Afghanistan before they're going to get better.”
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, knows first hand that peacemaking can be dangerous and difficult. He dedicated To End A War, his book on the negotiations that ended the war in the Balkans 15 years ago, to three colleagues who died in the early stages of that effort.
In announcing the appointment last week, President Obama said: “There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al Qaida and Taliban bases along the border, and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”