Richard Holbrooke: We cannot treat Afghanistan in isolation from Pakistan

The situation is bad today, when it shouldn't be, because the international community, including, I regret to say, the United States, perhaps especially the United States, prematurely decided that they were doing okay and refocused their attention on Iraq. That has proved to be a historic mistake. Twice in the last 20 years the United States has turned away from Afghanistan, in 1989 and again around 2003. We cannot make that mistake again.

Let's start with the macro point. The international community has 60,000 or more troops in Afghanistan now, and more are on their way. The US is sending an additional 17,000, there are other countries that are going to increase, and I hope they will do so, and we have a vast increase in civilian resources underway. But the actual people who pose a direct threat to the countries represented in this room, the people who planned 9/11, who killed Benazir Bhutto, who committed the atrocities in Mumbai, who were terrorising Swat, who probably were associated with the attack on the cricket team in Lahore, who are associated with daily outrages – they are not in Afghanistan. They're in Pakistan; in the western so-called tribal areas, although it also extends down into Baluchistan.

This is a tremendous dilemma, because the troops are fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban, but the Taliban are like the outriders for the international terrorists, al-Qa'ida and its supporters, who pose the direct threat to the international community. So we cannot ignore Pakistan and we must recognise the inexorable link. This does not mean the Taliban can be ignored, because if they succeed, al-Qa'ida will come back into Afghanistan and have a much larger and freer terrain in which to operate.

So while we pursue the battle against the Taliban, we must recognise that the heart of the threat comes from the people in western Pakistan. When they take over Swat, they are less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad. So the starting point for the new administration's approach to the region is going to be to treat it as an integrated whole, a single theatre of war, with very different rules on each side of the border.

Taken from remarks by the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Brussels Forum 2009