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.”