Is a Regional Strategy Viable in Afghanistan?

Ashley J. Tellis, Aroop Mukharji, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Christopher Boucek, Gilles Dorronsoro, Frederic Grare, Haroun Mir, Gautam Mukhopadhaya, Martha Brill Olcott, Karim Sadjadpour, Michael D. Swaine, Tiffany Ng, Dmitri Trenin Report May 6, 2010
President Obama has placed a greater emphasis on the need for a regional approach to Afghanistan. Leading experts analyze what a regional strategy would mean in practice through the eyes of key states, including Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and India, and what it could mean for U.S. policy.

President Obama made decisive changes to U.S. policy in Afghanistan—increasing forces on the ground, modifying the original goals, and placing a greater emphasis on the need for a regional approach. Leading experts analyze the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors, what they mean in practice, and what it could mean for U.S. policy. 

“All the relevant states will continue to act in and around Afghanistan, pursuing their national interests as they see them,” writes Carnegie President Jessica Mathews. “Whatever succession of strategies the United States and its partners adopt in the years ahead in pursuit of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, a deep and nuanced understanding of the interests and policies of the neighboring states—not as the United States would like them to be, but as these states actually perceive them—will be essential to a successful outcome.”

Countries Analyzed:

  • Pakistan, Frédéric Grare
    “Preventing a dominant Indian influence in Afghanistan, which could evolve into an alliance between the two countries and trap Pakistan in a two-front situation, is Islamabad’s first objective.”
  • India, Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhaya
    “There is intense political competition between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan today driven by real or imagined security concerns. But India’s larger interests in Afghanistan extend beyond Pakistan.”
  • Iran, Karim Sadjadpour
    “The current Iranian government’s deep animosity toward the United States often trumps the two countries’ shared interests in Afghanistan, motivating Tehran to undermine U.S. efforts even though the repercussions may be inimical to its own national interests.”
  • Saudi Arabia, Christopher Boucek
    “Saudi Arabia has had very real concerns with regard to Afghanistan because of the historic presence of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia also has a deep and multifaceted relationship with its close ally Pakistan and an increasingly troublesome relationship with Iran—both of which play out in Afghanistan.”
  • Central Asian Republics, Martha Brill Olcott
    “All five Central Asian Republics perceive their own national security as directly tied to developments in Afghanistan because of the transnational threats that originate in that country—or just beyond in Pakistan.”
  • China, Michael D. Swaine with Tiffany Ng
    “Beijing’s stance toward Afghanistan is rooted largely in fundamental Chinese strategic interests that extend well beyond Afghanistan itself: specifically, China’s suspicion toward and nascent rivalry with the United States, and its support for Pakistan in the latter’s struggle with India.”
  • Russia, Dmitri Trenin
    “Russia views Afghanistan today largely through the prism of security threats to itself and its Central Asian neighborhood, over which Moscow aspires to soft dominance.”
  • Afghanistan, Haroun Mir
    “Afghanistan is an integral part of South and Central Asia and the Greater Middle East, and could play a central role at the crossroads of the three regions. Thus, regional cooperation can serve to benefit all countries of the region.”
  • Coalition Partners, Gilles Dorronsoro
    “A regional approach favoring negotiation over war is supported by most of the European members of the coalition as a way to exit the whirlpool of conflict that is slowing destroying NATO without reasonable prospects of success.”

In its final chapter, Ashley J. Tellis concludes that “the regional approach to Afghanistan—understood as an effort to incorporate all of Kabul’s major neighbors into a cooperative enterprise led by the United States, and aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan through successful counterterrorism, reconstruction, and state-building—is unlikely to succeed, first and foremost, because the key regional stakeholders have diverging objectives within Afghanistan.”

End of document

About the South Asia Program

The Carnegie South Asia Program informs policy debates relating to the region’s security, economy, and political development. From the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s internal dynamics to U.S. engagement with India, the Program’s renowned team of experts offer in-depth analysis derived from their unique access to the people and places defining South Asia’s most critical challenges.


In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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