About 40 % of the Afghan population are Pashtuns, and there are 4 million Pashtuns living in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a nation divided, a nation that holds the key to security in the region. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a Pasthun native, has to some degree neglected the Pasthun population the past 9 years, and while keeping up a tight relationship with India, Pakistan is stirring up the Pashtuns in order to undermine the Afghan government.

The relationship amongst the Pashtun people is one of the reasons why the U.S. objective of a secure and stable Afghanistan has failed so far. Pashtunwali, the Pashtun social code, was one of the reasons the Pashtun population of Baluchistan, FATA and the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan gave shelters to the Taliban and al-Qaeda warriors, and thereby letting them regroup and conduct operations, rest and recreate, and train from inside their bases within Pakistan. This creates a situation that makes it difficult for the U.S. and NATO to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, as most of the main insurgent groups have their bases in Pakistan. The provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar are the most violent regions in Afghanistan, and the insurgents in these provinces conduct their operations from Pakistan (e.g. the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network)

A stable Pakistan is vital for U.S. interests in Southeast Asia. The country has a large nuclear arsenal, and it is one of President Obama’s greatest fears that a nuclear weapon might fall in to the hands of a group of extremists that will not hesitate to use it. Yet again, the border region is the one that creates this unrest with the President. Tribal warriors are only miles away from the capitol in Islamabad, and though there is no real threat that the state of Pakistan would collapse if attacked by them, it is clearly a warning sign. A tribal area with a strong military is one that will (at least for now) keep Pakistan’s army away, and thereby still provide safe haven for the Taliban and other extremists.

It is clear that the relationship amongst the Pashtun people and tribes along the so called Durand Line is a real headache for U.S. interests in the region. The objective of a secure and stable Central and Southeast Asia will not prevail as long as the Pakistanis feel uncertain about their neighboring countries. If Karzai’s Afghanistan will continue to embrace India as an important ally, it is almost certain that Pakistan will not do enough to keep the Taliban and the al-Qaeda warriors in their country at bay.

U.S. interests in the Af-Pak region have been undermined (by the Pakistanis) for several years due to the complicated relationship between India and Pakistan, and now also Pakistan and Afghanistan. For the U.S. to prevail with their policy objectives in the region, it is clear that a consensus between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan must be made. A consensus that states that it is in the interest for all parties involved that the extremists that are controlling a part of Southern and Eastern Afghanistan and Western and Northwestern Pakistan are a security threat not only to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in fact, to the whole region. The recently signed Trade Agreement between the two countries is definitely a beginning, but for the U.S., the relationship between the countries must stretch even further.

-Håkon Kristensen Moe, Intern, Peace & Security Program