Last week Via Meadia took up a question that it seems high time to mull over: What will Afghanistan look like when America leaves?Extending this question beyond Afghanistan to all of Greater Central Asia, Rajan Menon has taken a crack at an answer in The American Interest. The results are far from heartening. A weak Afghan regime with little legitimacy is in a poor condition to face the numerous tribal militias that threaten to destabilize the status-quo. The state of mutual distrust between the slew of various tribal and ethnic groups with in the country threatens to further destabilize the situation—especially given that many of these ethnic groups spill over into neighboring states, which could find themselves dragged in to Afghan conflicts against their will. In addition, India, Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran all have interests—often competing—in Afghanistan, and are likely to jockey for influence within the weak country, which could potentially become the focal point for violent great-and-medium power conflict in Central Asia:
India, not eager for the United States to leave Afghanistan, is likely to be Washington’s principal local partner once the United States seeks to influence outcomes there under the new circumstances created by military disengagement. Pakistan will be ambivalent as the 2014 deadline nears: It stands to lose significant U.S. aid, but it will gain a freer hand in Afghanistan. It may also find that detaching itself from America’s war takes some wind out of extremists’ sails. Russia, China and Iran will be pleased to see the large American military deployment on their flanks end. Together with Pakistan, they have opposed the retention of American bases in Afghanistan after the pullout. They, too, however, will be anxious about the aftermath.Two things make the impending competition especially dangerous. Afghanistan, already unstable, is likely to become more so, and the reverberations will course through Greater Central Asia. Moreover, the states in this zone have no record of working together collectively, nor do they have a regional forum they can use to break this pattern. (The Shanghai Cooperation Organization cannot serve this purpose because India, Iran and Pakistan are not full members, and China will balk at giving India a bigger role; nor can the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which includes Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, but not China, Iran or Russia.) India and Russia have long had compatible aims in Afghanistan, and Iran’s goals in Afghanistan overlap with theirs, but this alone will not provide a basis for wider collective action so long as India, Pakistan and China lack common interests and mutual trust. Ultimately, the consequences of the competition will depend on whether post-American Afghanistan acquires a government with the stability and savvy to do what its predecessors have adeptly done over the past two centuries: preserving national independence by manipulating outsiders’ rivalry.
While no one can say definitively what will happen when we leave, one thing looks clear: It won’t be pretty.Read the whole thing.