The Guardian reports that a British military assessment soon to be released warns that civil war or an outright Taliban takeover could follow NATO's 2014 withdrawal.
With three years to go until Afghan security forces are supposed to fight the insurgency without the help of foreign combat troops, the Afghanistan review will portray a country in turmoil. Last year's 30,000-strong US troop surge and new counterinsurgency tactics have pushed the Taliban out of much of the territory it controlled a year ago, but with the widespread use of improvised mines and roadside bombs, as well as a campaign of assassinations, the insurgents have sought to paralyse the Kabul government and hinder western-backed development.
President Hamid Karzai's administration remains weak and corrupt, reliant on a loose coalition of warlords. The country's biggest bank has been crippled by rampant embezzlement, and there have been a string of assassinations of high-profile Karzai allies
"Anyone who is following the situation in Afghanistan is worried. A civil war is a real possibility," said Martine van Bijlert of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.
"There is a real feeling of instability, that the future is unsure. People don't know who are their friends and enemies. So they try to make themselves ready for any eventuality, positioning themselves politically and worrying about how strong they are. People are falling back on old networks and old loyalties."
Perhaps Afghanistan has finally outgrown its skin. Its ethnic groups - Pashtun, Baloch, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen and others - may be irreconcilable except when absorbed into temporary alliances against other Afghan groups. And, within those ethnic groups, exists a web of warlords themselves often in conflict over tribal control.
No Muslim country has ever survived as a modern nation-state without overcoming warlordism and tribalism both of which are powerfully entrenched in today's Afghanistan. In this reality it's only natural, inevitable, that "people don't know who are their friends and enemies." Afghan warlords have a long and rich history of treachery. It's claimed that, at one time or another, each warlord has been an ally and a foe of every other. How is one supposed to know his friends from his enemies when they're interchangeable.
The British analysis posits another path, one that's rarely mentioned and potentially far more explosive - a Taliban takeover of the Pashtun homeland that spans both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This would result in a great loss of Pakistani territory and would probably instigate a similar gambit by the already rebellious Balochs. It could leave both Afghanistan and Pakistan mortally destabilized. This map reveals the dimensions of an independent Pashtunistan and Balochistan.
The red line is the Durand Line, the prescribed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The territory shown in green is the Pashtun homeland while that in pink is the Baloch territory. As can be seen, the Pashtun and Baloch territories constitute about half of Pakistan. Worse still, the Baloch region of southern Pakistan contains most of that country's mineral wealth.
It is only when you see the potential for upheaval confronting Islamabad that you can begin to grasp Pakistan's duplicity in the country's dealings with Washington and NATO. Our interests and theirs are anything but coterminous. For us to prevail in Afghanistan would require a seamless geo-political entity combining Afghanistan and Pakistan. That doesn't exist and it's safe to assume it never will. Just as Afghanistan accommodates both tribalism and warlordism, these same realities constantly threaten to undermine Pakistan, something that's well understood by Pakistan's rival, India.
Wheels spinning within wheels.