The regional security of Central Asia hinges on the level of stability within Afghanistan and its foreign relations with its neighbors.1 Afghanistan is not only pivotal in the maintenance of regional security, but is also crucial to the region's economic and political development. As Ashraf Ghani, chairman of the Afghan transition commission, stated, "The region needs to make a choice, a stable Afghanistan ... is absolutely essential."2 However, there is looming doubt as to the ability of Afghan forces to be able to defend the state against domestic and external insurgent movements and to sustain the progress in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency that the U.S.-backed, NATOled International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan has established under UN mandates since the United States initiated military action against the Taliban in 2001. The year 2014 is the deadline that has been set for ISAF troops to withdraw from the war-tom country and hand over the responsibility for ensuring security in the nation to the Afghan Security Forces. Currently the U.S. and NATO forces are transitioning from a mission of combat to one of support.3 The participants of the "Bonn+10" conference4 identified 2011 as the dividing point "From Transition to the Transformation Decade," during which the burden on the international community to assist Afghanistan in maintaining peace and continuing to develop its governmental reforms should gradually diminish.5 Several important questions require informed and insightful responses: During this "Transformation decade," what will the security picture in Afghanistan look like? Who will supplant the U.S. forces and complement the Afghan security forces to establish the necessary stability in Afghanistan to allow further economic and political development in the country and the region?
This article evaluates what kind of role the Central Asian states will play in Afghanistan after U.S. and NATO/ ISAF forces complete their withdrawal in 2014. Through a survey of regional media and analysis from renowned security agency assessments of these countries, I assess the interests and political will of each Central Asian state to provide their own security, and that of the region in dealing with Afghanistan. I also describe and compare regional trade and security cooperation efforts with relation to Afghanistan and to threats external to each respective state. These interests are then compared with each state's individual and collective capacity to fulfill them, considering a variety of characteristics related to leadership, economic strength, security and armed forces capacity, and national foreign policy dynamics, along with other factors that may inhibit future regional cooperation efforts. Finally, comparative analysis of these traits is displayed in a matrix format, which assists in determining future engagement approaches with Afghanistan on the part of each Central Asian state.
As a result of this research, I argue that the low levels of security force capacities, both historical and projected, of the Central Asian countries, their diverse levels of political will and corresponding goals regarding security operations in Afghanistan, and the lack of effective cooperation among the Central Asian states on a variety of related security issues will lead to their inability to cooperate in a comprehensive unified effort to establish stability in Afghanistan. Therefore, collectively, Central Asia will play only a minor role in continuing the U.S./ISAF security and stability operations in Afghanistan after 2014, directly affecting the regional security of Central Asia at large. Instead, the countries will continue as they have been doing, strategically creating a buffer zone of protection against any negative spillover effects resulting from any conflicts that may arise in Afghanistan. These conflicts include incursions from terrorist organizations, drug trafficking, and other organized crime. …