Earlier this week, the New York Daily News caught the Obama campaign purging their website of any evidence that Obama ever believed the surge in Iraq was not working. Obama’s new position on the surge is that there is an “improved security situation” in Iraq due to “our military’s hard work, improved counterinsurgency tactics, and enormous sacrifice by our troops and military families.” Obama is right: the security situation in Iraq has improved. Unfortunately, the situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating. Just this past week nine American soldiers were killed by Taliban militants at a U.S. base in Kunar Province bordering Pakistan. Obama recently told the Military Times his future policies in Iraq would be greatly determined “in consultation with General Petraeus and the other commanders on the ground.” In Afghanistan, as Heritage Asian Studies Senior Research Fellow Lisa Curtis reports, commanders on the ground are saying current Pakistani policy is strengthening the Taliban in Pakistan and directly undermining coalition efforts in Afghanistan.

Taliban groups in Pakistan are uniting to fight the U.S. in Afghanistan and the Taliban is even setting up Islamic courts in Pakistan asserting sovereignty over the northwest tribal areas. According to Curtis, the advance of pro-Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan has been fueled by peace deals struck by the government three months ago. Curtis writes: “Pakistan will have to confront domestic opposition and go back on the military offensive in the tribal areas, working closely with U.S. and NATO forces to control the Afghan-Pakistani border. Although such operations may be unpopular in Pakistan in the short-term, they are necessary if Pakistan wants to limit the chances of future U.S. unilateral military strikes that could lead to long-term destabilization of the country.”

In order to help the current Pakistan government see that is in their long-term interest to fight the Taliban now, Curtis recommends the U.S.:

  • Assume a lower public profile on Pakistani domestic political issues, carefully avoiding the perception that we favor one leader or party over another.
  • Support for the newly elected civilian government with the understanding that the democratic transition is an important part of combating extremism and terrorism in Pakistan over the long term.
  • Commit to bringing stable democracy to Afghanistan, which includes preventing the retrenchment of warlords, scaling back poppy production, and avoiding a return to the Taliban’s repressive, extremist policies in any part of the country.
  • Support the appointment of a U.S. presidential envoy dedicated to the task of promoting better relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan that will also coordinate closely with allies.
  • Support for a multilateral balance-of-payments support package that helps stabilize Pakistan’s economy in the short term but is conditioned on Pakistan taking specific steps to address longer-term economic imbalances.
  • Support for high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan on regional security.

Unilateral U.S. military operations in Pakistan carry strong risks of losing Pakistani partnership in the war on terror. Before Americans can succeed in Afghanistan, Pakistan must begin to control militants on its side of the border.

Quick Hits: