Policy Research Papers
Between 2001 and 2013, Afghanistan experienced a longer period of political stability than at any time since the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1964. The only certainty, as the country prepares for the election of a new president and the withdrawal of international forces in 2014, is that a distinctive era in the country's political development is coming to an end. Widely different scenarios describe how the country might evolve beyond 2014. At the optimistic end lies “peace and prosperity”, with continuity in the political institutions and an end to the conflict. At the pessimistic end lies “civil war”, with a break down in the institutions and escalation of the conflict. In between lie different variations on the themes of institutional robustness and break-down. Which of these widely differing but plausible scenarios best describes the actual outcome, depends on decisions by key actors such as the insurgent leadership or USUS administration, and on the outcome of key processes such as the 2014 Afghan presidential election.
There has been a regional dimension to the Afghan conflict at every stage since its outbreak in 1978. Indeed it is part of Afghanistan's historical legacy that domestic political actors follow closely developments in the neighbouring territories and have periodically sought opportunities to leverage relationships in the region to obtain domestic advantage. The classic example of Afghan actors competing through their regional relationships was the period 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban received sup¬port from Pakistan and the Northern Alliance from Iran, India, Russia and Tajikistan. The notion of Afghan actors having regional backers is this well established in Afghan political thought. With the rolling back of US engagement the regional dimension is widely expected to become more important. Regional powers can expect to be impacted by the different scenarios. Ultimately it matters for the regional powers whether Afghanistan does indeed embark on the path of peace and prosperity, or whether it regresses to civil war. And through their collective and bilateral decision making, the regional powers have some opportunities to influence developments towards a more favourable outcome.