Voices this Week draws together published information and material on an important strategic issue impacting South Asia.  This week: Afghanistan’s future security and stability as international forces withdraw.

Ahmed Rashid writes that India’s decision to pay Russia to supply arms and equipment to boost the strength of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as foreign combat troops depart the country could be: “a dramatic game-changer in the region – as well as a step fraught with escalation in regional rivalries.” He contends that Pakistan will almost certainly eye the deal critically, and accuse India “of trying to outflank it.” He does, however suggest a potential role for China, to allay Pakistani concerns by balancing Indian influence in Afghanistan:

“One country could play a stabilising or balancing role and that is China. President Karzai has also asked China for military help but Beijing has been extremely reluctant to get involved on the ground in Afghanistan – just as China refuses to get involved in other conflict zones such as North Korea. Pakistan could now ask its closest ally, China, to get more involved in bolstering the ANA. That could balance Indian and Russian influence.”

As part of a monthly series highlighting potential post-2014 Afghanistan scenarios, Michael Kugelman writes on Foreign Policy of “the Great Game that won’t be.”

“China and India, keen to provide for their billion-strong populations and fuel their growing economies, are locked in a global race for natural resources — mainly oil and gas, but also other energy sources as well as minerals…. Given each country’s insatiable need for natural resources, new sources of supply will continuously be in demand. And on this note, Afghanistan would seem a logical destination.”

Kugelman, however, argues against concerns that Afghan resources will become a source of strategic tensions. He asserts that “one word: instability” will “stop Afghanistan from becoming a new ground zero for the China-India battle for resources.” He acknowledges that “in truth, other factors are hampering these investments as well.…  Still, the hesitations of China and India ultimately come back to security fears – fears that go beyond the mere personal safety of investors and their projects.”

The Taliban announced on Thursday the launch of its annual “spring offensive,” set to target foreign troops, diplomatic centers, contractors, the Afghan government, parliament, and judges. Reports also emerged this week of the CIA ending support for militias in eastern and southern Afghanistan, prompting fears “that the Taliban and al Qaeda will seize the opportunity this security vacuum provides to regroup and stage a concerted attack against Kabul during its time of political transition.”

Finally, with the runoff between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to settle Afghanistan’s presidential elections delayed until June, Michael O’Hanlon offers six “reasons the US will miss Hamid Karzai,” including: 1) “He held Afghanistan together ethnically,” 2) “He remained generally popular at home… that plus the popularity of the army have provided much of the glue that has prevented Afghanistan from unraveling,” and 3) “He has largely stayed out of the election to succeed him. This could change before the June runoff, of course, but Karzai’s restraint so far distinguishes him from many other world leaders who found ways to circumvent constitutional or democratic requirements that they relinquish power.” Read more.


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