U.S. and NATO combat forces are set to leave Afghanistan by 2014. Afghanistan's neighbors and Western countries are pledging their commitment to the country's security and economic stability, while allowing the country to take ownership of its economic future. But some Washington-based analysts say that Afghanistan also needs some political reforms.
During a recent visit to Turkey, Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned that there will not be any hope for peace in his country without help from its neighbors in fighting terrorist groups. The Istanbul conference, hosted by Turkey and Afghanistan, involved top diplomats from the region, and the west.
The United States is working with its partners to build what's being called a "New Silk Road" to embed Afghanistan in the economic life of the region. The plan aims to boost trade in the region by linking Central Asia's roads and railways with Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
"The bottom line is, you can't make Afghanistan a New Silk Road unless you stabilize the country and stabilize the politics," noted Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "So all these visions for the future are sort of getting ahead of the immediate job at hand which is to continue to stabilize Afghanistan."
O'Hanlon, who specializes in national security and defense policy, says the troop drawdown policy is reasonably sketched out, but the harder part is to strengthen the Afghan political system.
"2014 is also the year that President Karzai has to step down. We need to help Afghans have some meaningful way to choose who is going to replace him. Unfortunately, the Afghan constitution, for which my country has some responsibility, creates a very strong President and weak political parties, weak Parliament, weak alternative centers of political influence. And that leaves you poorly prepared for a presidential election where the incumbent cannot run," O'Hanlon noted.
Some analysts warn the 2014 elections will be a "disaster," if the widespread fraud alleged in the last elections is repeated. They say there must be an agenda for serious reforms to put Afghanistan's government on a sustainable path.
"The justice system is ... the attorney general is either in the hands of President Karzai or it is an incredibly weak justice system. So there has got to be greater checks and balances so there is some accountability within the system and so that people can channel some of their grievances. Those are some of the minimal reforms that have to happen. There has got to be a way through creating checks and balances through more decentralization of the state to bring more voices, to bring more inclusivity and bring more accountability to the system," said Caroline Wadhams, who is with the Center for American Progress.
At this point the United States and the international community intend to keep funding Afghanistan's efforts to build its infrastructure and provide other basic services to its citizens. But if security continues to deteriorate beyond 2014, these plans could be derailed.
There may be some violence still after 2014, but regional and western countries are supporting an Afghan-led reconciliation process that will ensure a stable and democratic Afghanistan.