Project: Asia Programme, Russia and Eurasia Programme

Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme
Senior Research Fellow, Asia Programme

It is not the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan per se that poses a security risk for its regional neighbours, but rather the lack of an adequate regional security structure.

Khyber Pass, the mountain pass linking Pakistan with Afghanistan. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images.Khyber Pass, the mountain pass linking Pakistan with Afghanistan. Photo by Getty Images.

Summary

  • The withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan does not pose a major security risk per se for regional neighbours. Rather, the problem is the lack of an adequate regional security structure. Scope exists for broader bilateral or regional engagement and discussion on a range of regional challenges. However, the lack of institutional capacity in Afghanistan is a constraining factor.
  • Regional economic connectivity is limited. Obstacles to integration include water disputes. Two key development projects – the Central Asia–South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000) and the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) pipeline – face numerous hurdles. Support for increased people-to-people contacts could provide an entry point for broader initiatives, but macro-level solutions are unlikely at this stage.
  • Pakistan’s relationship with the Afghan Taliban will remain one of the key determinants of Afghanistan’s future stability. Islamabad tolerates violent radicalization so long as it does not target the Pakistani state. In contrast, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan regard Pakistan, not Afghanistan, as the main source of religious radicalization.
  • The withdrawal from Afghanistan of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is unlikely to affect levels of drug-trafficking or crime, as the drug trade serves the interests of the ruling elites.
  • Refugees are not a major concern for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but a further influx of refugees in the event of a deterioration in security in Afghanistan would be destabilizing for Pakistan. Pakistan is seeking to reduce its attractiveness to Afghan refugees, but efforts to encourage repatriation are failing.