The 2009 strategy towards Afghanistan will fall to be reassessed in 2010. If exasperation and domestic political expediency override hard-headed analysis and lead to a reliance on kinetic options as a presumed final alternative, the consequences in the region – and for the U.S. – will be truly bleak.

Meanwhile, neighboring nuclear-armed Pakistan will not remain static. Home-grown terrorist groups which have forged opportunistic inter-connections and expedient ties with al-Qaeda threaten the state itself. Even if in 2010 the Pakistani army prevails in their current operations, they will not share western interests over Afghanistan. Nor will the elected government provide adequate political and economic leadership. President Zardari may be removed or stripped of his powers, and the intentions and efficacy of the main opposition are highly questionable.

Like Afghanistan, Pakistan needs external help to turn the corner. 2010 will test Western policy and practices in the region. China, Russia, India, Iran and Central Asia all have interests in the outcome. Needless to say, the stakes are very high.

Sir Hilary Synnott is a member of the Atlantic Council and a Consulting Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Security Studies.  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.