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As Afghanistan approaches the 2014 deadline for the drawdown of most of the military forces in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), there is considerable, and justifiable, anxiety among all the stakeholders, including the government of Afghanistan, the countries contributing troops and assistance on the ground, and Afghanistan's regional neighbours.
Doubts persist about the enduring ability of Afghanistan's authorities to prevent and repel a potential onslaught from Taliban forces and other potential rebels. There are also serious questions about the state of the country's finances, as well as the impact of reductions in existing development programmes.
At the same time, there is a determination among all stakeholders to prevent a repeat of the unhappy experiences of the past, when military drawdowns were followed by international neglect and a fresh wave of violence, with serious implications for regional security. Provided the tasks are shared between all stakeholders, duplication is avoided, and efforts are concentrated on essential tasks and applied with due diligence, there is still a good chance for a new Afghanistan to emerge from the cycle of violence which it has now endured for over three decades.
While the US remains, by far, the biggest single contributor to both the military operations and economic reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, the UK is the second-biggest contributor to the ISAF forces, and India is a major aid donor, with a palpable and growing stake in the country's security and its contribution to regional stability. Neither RUSI nor VIF make any claim to speak on behalf of their countries' governments, or seek to replace the military, political and diplomatic work undertaken by state officials.
Given the wealth of experience both institutions have in studying the management of various domestic and international conflicts, RUSI and VIF established a joint working group to identify the areas in which their two countries can collaborate in contributing to Afghanistan's long-term prosperity. Experts from the two institutions met in New Delhi and London during October and November 2011. The opinions of a wider circle of government officials, academics and experts from the two countries were also sought and taken into account in the final draft of this report. While the views of this paper represent the considered opinions of all the working group members and acknowledge the policy constraints which may apply in both the UK and India, they should not be regarded as reflecting the opinion of either government.