This PRIO Paper is authored by Smruti S. Pattanaik, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi. It is an output of a collaborative research project on ‘Frameworks of South Asian Cooperation on Conflict Management’ under the IDSA-PRIO institutional cooperation. Started in early 2006, the cooperation furthers joint research, networking and scholarly exchange. The objective of the cooperation is the development of new knowledge and expertise within the fields of conflict management, mediation, peacebuilding and non-traditional security.

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It is not yet clear what kind of post-2014 military presence the USA is contemplating in Afghanistan. As the stability of Afghanistan will depend on successful political reconciliation, the reintegration of Taliban fighters and the dismantling of cross-border Taliban safe havens, an immediate issue confronting the international community is the training of Afghan troops to assume a combat role post-2014. Moreover, the construction of alternative trade and transit routes could contribute positively to regional stability by lessening Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan. By serving as a land bridge, Afghanistan could not only help strengthen regional interaction, but also provide neighboring countries with new stakes in its stability. The main argument of this paper is that Afghanistan has the potential to emerge as a major hub of connectivity and energy trade that would encourage constructive engagement from neighboring countries that have varied security interests. Building economic stakes for these countries in Afghanistan would motivate them to ensure the security and stability of the country and that of the region as a whole. This could recast Afghanistan as a facilitator and convert the zero-sum game being played into mutually beneficial policies. Despite their bilateral rivalry, even India and Pakistan could jointly engage in Afghanistan. The broader agenda of both India and Pakistan to improve their contacts with Central Asia can be facilitated by Kabul, which would give both countries a greater stake in a stable Afghanistan. Regional organisations could further enable the three regional security complexes (RSCs) South Asia, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf to interact with each other. Finally, the strengthening of Afghan troops, reintegration of Taliban fighters and a credible power-sharing arrangement that protects the interests of ethnic minorities could together form a strategy that would help in the emergence of Afghanistan as a stable state. This strategy needs to be complemented by a consensual approach by regional neighbors as stability in Afghanistan is intertwined with the interests of the other countries in the region.