Despite near-constant warnings of imminent chaos, Afghanistan has come a long way since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Security has improved markedly, and the economy has stabilized. A national assembly has ratified an impressive constitution, and presidential elections were held. If progress continues, the reconstruction of Afghanistan will mark a significant victory in the war on terrorism. If it flags, the recent gains will start to erode.
Central Asia as a whole is also at a turning point. Following September 11, 2001, Washington entered into new understandings with every government in the region; all saw Afghanistan as a security threat and thus were eager to help. But whether Washington's present interest in the region will turn into a sustained commitment to Afghanistan and its neighbors is still unclear. Already, members of Congress are pushing to reduce U.S. assistance to Afghanistan, arguing that the principal U.S. objective there -- the destruction of the Taliban -- has been achieved. Many Central Asian leaders are beginning to hedge their bets, assuming that U.S. attention will soon shift elsewhere.
What few U.S. policymakers have recognized is that recent progress in Afghanistan has created a remarkable opportunity -- not only for Afghanistan but for the rest of Central Asia as well. The United States now has the chance to help transform Afghanistan and the entire region into a zone of secure sovereignties sharing viable market economies, enjoying secular and open systems of government, and maintaining positive relations with the United States. The means to achieve this goal will be the establishment of a Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development (GCAP), a regionwide forum for the planning, coordination, and implementation of an array of U.S. programs.
The GCAP would signal the United States' recognition of its long-term interests in Central Asia. It would also reflect the fact that peace and development are best advanced by recognizing greater Central Asia as a single region linked by common interests and common