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Concluding 2012, Afghanistan's Neighbors Gird for 2014

by Sharon Behn December 20, 2012

The Afghan army has been preparing to take over the country's security as NATO's 2014 deadline to withdraw all combat troops moves to within a year.

But even with 300,000 national security forces now hired, Afghanistan still faces a challenge from the Taliban, al-Qaida and Haqqani networks.

According to political analyst Imtiaz Gul, 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. 'They realize they really need to get on board [and] 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 $4 billion in aid and lay out a vision for what the country might aim to achieve in the coming decade.

But the outgoing U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, says pledges are just one step.

"It only matters if people are meeting their commitments now and we can really support an Afghanistan that is secure, stable and 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 says 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,' said Smalls. 'So what it means, in practice, is that a lot of the different parties, including the Taliban, may be more willing to give Chinese projects a break than most other investors.

'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,' he added.

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.

"The question is whether or not Iran can become a part of a group of countries, [part of] a regional approach that will work to prevent Afghanistan [from] sliding back to the Taliban era and moving forward to a more democratic progressive approach toward [domestic governance and] relations with its neighbors,' he said.

How Afghanistan, its neighbors and allies cooperate on all these issues will help determine the future of that country.

VOA correspondents Shannon van Sant and Aru Pande contributed to this report from China and Washington respectively.

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