In Afghanistan, the Obama administration faces an array of agonizing choices, none of which is good. Making matters worse, the most important strategic issue is not Afghanistan. The strategic fulcrum in containing and defeating the insurgency that is spilling over and across the Hindu Kush is Pakistan.

Whether we win or lose in Afghanistan, however that may be defined, we cannot afford that uncertainty in Pakistan.

If the stabilization of Afghanistan could be achieved, tens of thousands more troops and far greater civilian capacity; tens of billions of dollars and euros; and a commitment likely to last 10 years or more are required. Without a game-changing event such as another Sept. 11, given public dissatisfaction with the war in Europe and America, rallying sufficient support to make a sustained effort feasible is a remote possibility.

More troops for Afghanistan can improve security for the short term. But the equally important legs in this three-legged strategy are governance and development. Both are in woeful and possibly irreversibly bad shape. All the king’s horses and men may not be able to correct those glaring deficiencies even if a concerted effort by President Hamid Karzai and his government were possible. Given voter fraud in the recent election, Karzai’s standing in Washington and among its allies is not good.

If Obama decides that troop increases are not the answer, a decision to stand down and begin some form of extrication could precipitate a collapse in Afghanistan and an ultimate victory for the Taliban with all the nasty consequences both at home and abroad. Hence, no matter what he decides, the choices are grim. Indeed, one wonders if President Obama occasionally wishes that he should have stayed in the Senate.

In this debate over Afghanistan, Pakistan should dominate our thinking and our future actions. Whether the Karzai government falls or stands, a stable Pakistan is still the only barrier to contain the spread of jihadi-backed violence. For the time being, as this column reported several weeks ago, the multiple economic, security and political crises in Pakistan are being met by the government. That glimmer of optimism is fragile. And despite the best of intentions by Washington to provide support, anti-Americanism in Pakistan is on the boil.

The passage by the House of Representatives last week of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill that will send $1.5 billion a year in non-security assistance to Pakistan for five years provoked outrage on the part of many Pakistanis. To some Pakistanis, compared with what has been spent in and on Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. aid is miserly and insulting. To others, the “conditions” imposed by the legislation on Pakistan are odious. And to the conspiracy believers, of which there are many, the bill is a plot for some sort of American takeover. Hence, despite the need for this and far more support, paradoxically, this well intended law will likely harm and not improve U.S. standing in Pakistan.

Pakistan needs trade to improve its economy and standard of living, as the international community will simply not provide enough aid to achieve the needed growth. But, with the stroke of a pen, the United States can change that situation and help reverse the highly negative Pakistani biases against America by reducing tariffs on Pakistan textile imports to the levels set on other countries. Resistance by American unions and manufacturers may prove overwhelming. However, this step more than any other can make the difference in favorably influencing Pakistani opinion and aiding the economy.

Pakistan’s military still does not have the equipment for fighting and winning the battle against the insurgency it is waging. Unfortunately, the current arms-transfer process is not capable of getting that equipment and material to Pakistan despite the best efforts on all sides. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill allows for that to change. The model should be the famous “lend lease” program of World War II that was also used recently in Colombia in the drug war. Leasing or selling arms can reverse this intolerable situation of not delivering to the Pakistani army the military wherewithal to win.

Finally, as Pakistan faces dangers from both the east and west, India’s increased defense spending and decision to field higher yield nuclear weapons will reinforce Pakistani arguments that regard the existential threat emanating from India. The United States and others must help defuse the longstanding animosity between these two neighbors if we are to succeed in defeating the insurgents who ultimately threaten us in the West, recognizing that India faces what it sees as a threat from its massive neighbor to the east — China.

Whether we succeed or fail in Afghanistan, Pakistan is THE strategic issue that counts most. Whether the Obama administration recognizes that is the first step. The second and more important is then taking effective action.

Harlan Ullman is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the National Defense UniversityThis essay was previously published as “Pakistan, not Afghanistan, matters more” in UPI