2014 will soon be with us.

Over the next two years, international forces are expected to draw down, offering ‘strategic overwatch’ as Afghan government and security forces take the reins. Some argue that it is not soon enough, others that a few short years offers too little time to build the institutions that will be expected to endure beyond 2014.

Either way, the deadline has noticeably stiffened the resolve of coalition and Afghan partners to zero in on what it will take to ‘transition’ this battle-scarred province without a return to the not-so-distant days of Taliban rule and tribal conflict.

Other factors are also playing their part in concentrating attention on the ‘end-state’; the promised US military drawdown will begin to take effect sometime this year, and President Karzai’s administration is under increasing pressure to demonstrate its ability to take the lead.

Such capricious dynamics have sparked a low-key yet ambitious undertaking to define a roadmap for transition, to chart a course to 2014 and beyond.

In principle, it sounds straightforward; figure out what Helmand should look like in 2014 or thereabouts, work backwards, and a plan should emerge.

The reality is that its creation has been a dazzlingly complex undertaking…

Over the past five months, planning teams have been zealously gathering views from across the province and beyond. In the districts, local officials and police chiefs, alongside civilian advisers and military commanders have been pondering their priorities over endless cups of tea. In the provincial seat of Lashkar Gah, line ministry representatives have discussed and debated with PRT civilians, who in turn have spent painstaking hours alongside their NATO counterparts. Countless drafts have been exchanged between Helmand, Kabul, London and Washington.

We stand now giddily on the brink of completion – edging closer to a final document that will comprise a visionary ‘capping document’ underpinned by thematic plans, which in turn inform district plans… Its 67 single-spaced pages and sheaf of annexes belying the labours of its creation.

It may be easy to understate the significance of this innocuous document, but its effects should quickly become visible; the shift from company commanders spending military funds to build a bridge or repair a canal to Afghan community groups and line ministries using on-budget funds to determine development priorities for their own people. It’s frought with risk, but vital if Afghans are to assume leadership.

But so far, only half the battle has been fought.

There are innumerable cases of superbly drafted plans laying dormant on the shelves of corporate suites and government departments the world over, quietly gathering dust despite the fanfare associated with their unveiling. The Helmand Plan 2011-2014 is no different. As Major Kim Noedskov, one of the authors of the plan, bluntly puts it,  “The plan is not important. Its understanding and implementation is.”

And he is right. For such an elaborate design to take effect – that is, to change the way of doing business here in Helmand, the vision and roadmap it describes must find themselves woven into the daily ‘battle rhythms’ of tens of thousands of NATO troops, their Afghan partners and into the very fabric of the myriad institutional layers that comprise this vastly complex campaign.

It strikes me that three factors will determine whether or not this plan will have some hope of shaping the daily actions of those on the ground; the trinity of civilian stabilisation teams, military commanders and Afghan officials;

Crucially, it will take leadership; the extent to which this plan continues to be genuinely and visibly endorsed at the highest levels of civilian and military command. Second, it must be embraced by those with the money, Afghan and international alike, who must be compelled to spend their dollars in accordance with this plan – and no other. Finally, people must be held to account for delivering on the goals and milestones of the plan. This will especially contentious, when systems of managing performance and directing effort vary wildly across the institutional spectrum.

To be fair, it is early days. The plan has barely been unfurled, and high marks must be given for a determined effort thus far. It will take some time yet before its intricacies begin to trickle down to the grunts on the front line. It should also be pointed out however, that outcome of these efforts is far from certain and the final votes wont be counted for a few more years yet.