The war in Afghanistan will intensify in 2010 as NATO tries to regain the initiative from the insurgency. Casualties will rise. By year’s end we will only begin to see whether or not Obama’s strategy shows signs of reversing the momentum away from the Taliban.
The Karzai government will face increasing political difficulties. Politics will divert the Kabul government from efforts to improve governance and reduce corruption. Hopefully, this will not interfere with the effort to rapidly build up the Afghan army and police, but it is likely that such difficulties will worsen the already problematic nature of the challenge.
Violence is likely to get worse in Pakistan as well. Two key questions will be whether the various jihadist movements congeal together and whether the army can maintain its cohesion. President Zardari will be removed from office or become a figurehead. Nawaz Sharif will be the powerbroker in the politics of 2010. The army will stay out of politics but be increasingly anxious about the country’s future.
Two wild cards could destabilize everything. Another mass casualty attack in India like Mumbai 2008 could take the subcontinent to the brink of war or worse. A successful al-Qaeda attack on the U.S. would also bring enormous pressure on Pakistan to act or face unilateral American military moves.
Bruce Riedel is a Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution and was the author of the review of Afghanistan and Pakistan Policy for the White House in March 2009. This essay is part of the 2010: A Watershed Year for South Asia web forum, a collection of expectations about the greater South Asia region in the coming year.