The report from the International Crisis Group says the country faces almost certain collapse if it has another round of fraudulent elections.
Candace Rondeaux, the ICG's senior Afghanistan analyst and author of the report, contends that fraud-ridden elections for president and Parliament in 2009 and 2010 punctured the government's credibility, which, she said, Afghan leaders have not been able to regain.
A fraudulent 2014 election is "a near certainty" under current conditions, the report says.
Many key tasks remain unfinished, it says, particularly those dealing with voting, constitutional defects and the rule of law.
"Steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse," the report says. "Time is running out."
The first step to rectifying the problems is setting a date for a presidential election as soon as possible, the report advises.
But the report sees that as unlikely, charging that President Hamid Karzai's top priority is maintaining control.
The ICG doesn't rule out the possibility that Karzai could declare a state of emergency to extend his power.
The international community should maintain aid commitments to support an election and begin contingency planning to ensure security for polling places, the report says.