Predicting a troubled future for Afghanistan appears to be the new trend in some of the Western writing about the country. Think tanks, newspaper op-eds, and blogs in Europe and North America are warning about a range of scenarios, from a division of the country to a Taliban takeover, a civil war, and increased ethnic strife among the country's various groups.
The most discussed among these is a report called "Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition," by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). It warns that Kabul is heading towards a potentially devastating crisis is 2014 when most NATO forces would leave the country:
Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organizing a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections' chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition.
A recent editorial in The New York Times aptly titled "Time to Pack Up" advocated a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It says that prolonging the Afghan war will "only do more harm." It also paints a very bleak picture of Afghanistan after the departure of the Western troops:
We are not arguing that everything will work out well after the United States leaves Afghanistan. It will not. The Taliban will take over parts of the Pashtun south, where they will brutalize women and trample their rights. Warlords will go on stealing. Afghanistan will still be the world's second-poorest country. Al-Qaeda may make inroads.
The most worrying conclusions, perhaps, are drawn by Sarah Chayes, a journalist and former special assistant to senior U.S. military leaders. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, she reads deeply into the dismissal of Afghan security ministers in August. She essentially sees Afghanistan's future in the rearview mirror:
A plausible scenario upon the large-scale departure of international troops in 2014 is either disintegration into civil conflict or a de facto division of power along ethnic lines, with a Pakistan-backed Pashtun bloc in the south and east lining up against one or more northern non-Pashtun blocs that might well gain military support from India and Uzbekistan, if not Iran. Recent signs indicate that many key players are already rushing to consolidate their positions within this framework, already operating, for all intents and purposes, in a post-2014 world.
Afghans, however, strongly reject such predictions. The Afghan government and sections of the Afghan press condemned the ICG report. They called it part of a "psychological war" and even linked it to a Western effort to pressure the Afghan government into making concessions in future security pacts.