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AfPak is the usual shorthand way in military and political circles, especially within Washington and NATO, to refer to Afghanistan and Pakistan jointly. The term began to appear widely in newspapers in early February 2009, following a speech given by the US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, then recently appointed as US special envoy to the region, to a security conference in Munich on 8 February. He said:

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.

Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, 22 Mar. 2009.

The words “we often call” demonstrate that the term was not new. It had appeared previously in print. The Dhaka Courier wrote on 19 December 2008: “Recently, this phenomenon in the western part of South Asia has been interestingly termed as an ‘AfPak’ problem by an American General.” The earliest appearance I can trace is this:

“There is a theater of war, that I would call AfPak, with two fronts — an eastern front and a western front,” said Richard Holbrooke, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s. “I believe that we will look back ten years from now and say that AfPak was even more important to our national security than Iraq.”

New York Times, 24 Feb. 2008.

The term is now quite widely used.

McChrystal’s contempt for the inept Richard Holbrooke — the “Afpak” envoy who hourly awaits his own dismissal — at least bears the merit of truth.

Belfast Telegraph, 28 Jun. 2010.

Senior administration officials stopped referring to America’s efforts in Afghanistan and instead spoke constantly of “AfPak,” to emphasize the notion that success in Afghanistan depended on actions taken in Pakistan.

Newsweek, 22 Mar. 2010.

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Page created 18 Apr 2009; Last updated 03 Jul 2010