In the coming year, Afghanistan will continue to prepare to take over its security as international combat troops work to complete their pullout, set for 2014. As this happens, China, Iran and Pakistan are increasingly focused on the future of their war-torn neighbor.
The Afghan army has been preparing to take over the country’s security as NATO’s 2014 deadline to withdraw all combat troops moves a year closer.
But even with 300,000 national security forces now hired, Afghanistan still faces a challenge from the Taliban, al-Qaida and Haqqani networks.
Political analyst Imtiaz Gul says Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan, have launched efforts to create a level of political stability there in the face of shared threats. “I think Pakistan, as well as several other countries, have changed the goal posts, have changed the outlook on Afghanistan," he said. "And they realize they really need to get on board, join hands to fix the situation in Afghanistan as much as possible to avoid instability in their own territory.”
Over the past year, Afghanistan’s allies met in Chicago and elsewhere to pledge at least four billion dollars in aid and lay out a vision of the country through the next decade.
But the outgoing U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, told VOA pledges are just one step. “It only matters if people are meeting their commitments now and we can really support an Afghanistan - secure, stable, prosperous - inside a secure, stable prosperous region,” he said.
Investor countries like China could exert more diplomatic weight and economic influence in the region as the U.S. pulls out.
Analyst Andrew Smalls of the German Marshall Fund told VOA in Beijing that China's friendly relations with Pakistan are key. “One reason why the Afghans were particularly keen to have the Chinese come in and be investors, is that they are one of the only countries that Pakistan trusts. So what it means in practice is a lot of the different parties, including the Taliban, may be more willing to give Chinese projects a break than most other investors in the country," Smalls stated. "And also, of course, that China may be willing to use its influence over Pakistan, and then Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban, to give those projects a break that other investments in the country may not have.”
Iran, to the west of Afghanistan, has already cultivated strong cultural and commercial ties with its neighbor.
What Iran does with that influence is critical, according to former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth.
“But the question is whether or not Iran can become a part of a group of countries, a regional approach that will work to prevent Afghanistan sliding back to the Taliban era and moving forward to a more democratic progressive approach toward the country and its relations with its neighbors,” Inderfurth added.
How Afghanistan, its neighbors and allies cooperate on all these issues will help determine the future of that country.
Shannon van Sant in China and Aru Pande in Washington also contributed to this report.