The Atlantic

The Devastating Paradox of Pakistan

How Afghanistan’s neighbor cultivated American dependency while subverting American policy
Source: Tyler Comrie

Two months after the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Vice President–elect Joe Biden sat with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, in the Arg Palace, an 83-acre compound in Kabul that had become a gilded cage for the mercurial and isolated leader. The discussion was already tense as Karzai urged Washington to help root out Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, implying that more pressure needed to be exerted on Pakistani leaders. Biden’s answer stunned Karzai into silence. Biden let Karzai know how Barack Obama’s incoming administration saw its priorities. “Mr. President,” Biden said, “Pakistan is fifty times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.”

It was an undiplomatic moment for sure, but also a frank expression of the devastating paradox at the heart of the longest war in American history. In 16 years, the United States has spent billions of dollars fighting a war that has killed thousands of soldiers and an untold number of civilians in a country that Washington considers insignificant to its strategic interests in the region. Meanwhile, the country it has viewed as a linchpin, Pakistan—a nuclear-armed cauldron of volatile politics and long America’s in South Asia—has pursued a covert campaign in Afghanistan designed to ensure that

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