The 1,600-mile-long frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan has always been a wild and often violent region — and never more so than today. There is warfare on both sides of the border now.
In the west, U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces are battling the Taliban and other insurgents allied with al-Qaida. And in the east, the Pakistani army is engaged in a sustained campaign against those same insurgents in one of the tribal territories along the frontier. This five-part series focuses on these conflicts, which have major implications for whoever succeeds George W. Bush in the White House.
Part One takes us to Afghanistan, a nation that is more violent now than at any time since the war to oust the Taliban began seven years ago. More than half the country has been declared unsafe for aid workers, and insurgents control areas as close as an hour's drive from the capital. They have carried out spectacular attacks in Kabul that demonstrate their growing strength.
The most notable deterioration in security in recent months has been in Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan — places the U.S. military once touted as the country's greatest success stories. NATO and the Afghan government say the main reason for this year's spike in violence is a significant increase in the number of militants coming across from Pakistan. Officials say there simply aren't enough troops to hold Afghanistan's mountainous terrain or to deal with the growing number of fighters.
Part Two explores what the U.S. military terms Regional Command East — the area along the Afghan border with Pakistan. The regional commander, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, says his forces are seeing as much as a 30 percent increase in attacks over the last year.
President Bush has ordered another brigade for the area, but local commanders say it won't include enough troops to "clear, hold and build" and deal with the Islamist fighters who are pouring over the border from Pakistan.
The next two parts of the series focus on Pakistan. The tribal territories along the Afghan frontier have never been under government control and large swaths are now ruled by Taliban militants and their allies. Since early August, the Pakistani army has been engaged in an intensive campaign against the militants in one of the tribal territories, Bajaur. There have been few, if any, firsthand accounts of the fighting because journalists are rarely allowed into the tribal zones. But Part Three of the series forms a picture of the area through interviews with some of the thousands of civilians who have fled the battle zone.
Part Four looks at the dilemma facing Pakistan's new civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari. How does he square his professed alliance with the U.S. — which provides Pakistan's military with hundreds of millions of dollars a month — with the desires of his people and Parliament?
The Parliament says Pakistan must use "full force" against U.S.-led forces if they violate Pakistan's sovereignty by raiding the border tribal belt, as U.S. commandos did recently, killing as many as 15 civilians. Pakistan's military chief says such assaults are counterproductive, a view overwhelmingly shared by Pakistanis. The Pakistani government is, however, less vocal in its opposition to U.S. missile strikes on Taliban targets from unmanned predator drones.
Part Five examines the increasingly challenging problems that a new U.S. president will inherit in Afghanistan and Pakistan — something that has become all the more complex in the past few weeks with the Bush administration's decision to authorize U.S. forces to launch ground attacks on Pakistan's soil.
One former senior intelligence official says that decision has created a "very dangerous" situation, in part because no one knows how this will play out. One thing is certain: Whoever moves into the White House in January will have to make sure there is a clear and cohesive strategy for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.