Neighboring Pakistan has been both victim and culprit in this debacle. Pakistan’s historical support of jihadists — a lot that murders American, Afghan, and Pakistani civilians and soldiers — has pushed the country toward strategic death. The generals in Rawalpindi are morally responsible for this cancer that is eating Pakistan from within and threatens its neighbors. And this is well-known. What few recognize, however, is the massive destabilizing impact of continued conflict in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Millions have fled violence in Pakistan’s northwest, contributing to thousands of Pashtun migrants pouring into Karachi, settling in informal settlements in the crowded megacity, and putting its ethnic, economic, and political fault lines under great stress. Since 2008, thousands have died in ethnic and political violence in Karachi, and the number grows every year. Obama’s war is not the sole contributor to Karachi’s ethnic violence, but it is an unrecognized cause of its uptick.
Remarkably, a president who ran on campaigning that Afghanistan was the good war and Pakistan was an even greater challenge has been inattentive to these two wars. There is a noticeable absence of presidential leadership and resolve. The ambitious surge announced in 2009 was time-limited, telegraphing to the Taliban that they just had to outlast limited American patience. The next year, the Obama administration downgraded its goals for Afghanistan, abandoning the pretense of nation-building. By 2011, counterinsurgency was completely tossed out the window.
Obama accelerated the pace of drone attacks in Pakistan, trying to win the war against al Qaeda on the cheap and without much consideration for the negative externalities of this phantom war. These unilateral attacks — combined with the Raymond Davis episode, the bin Laden raid, and the accidental attack on a Pakistani base in November 2011 — widened a rift with Pakistan, without which Obama will never get the political settlement with the Taliban that he needs to responsibly vacate Afghanistan.