Sources of Tension in Afghanistan & Pakistan: Regional Perspectives


The upcoming withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and the 2014 presidential election, taking place in a context of growing internal political and economic instability, requires a strengthened political framework and new strategic approaches.


While the international community’s main challenge in Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to be the creation of secure states in contexts of instability, it must begin to do so through different means. Given the economic, social and geopolitical challenges that have strong regional dimensions and which are central to stability, the role of the five key implicated powers: India, China, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, is likely to become increasingly relevant as the new future for Afghanistan is shaped. This revised role may potentially include acting as “brokers” of the West’s relations with both the latter and with Pakistan.


Pakistan itself, always a critical player, is likely to take on greater protagonism in the region, because of the inter-linkages with Afghanistan and the potential for blowback from unfolding scenarios there on Pakistan domestically; its bilateral relations with neighbours and with the US; and because of its geopolitical importance for the region and globally, as the world’s only Muslim nuclear power.


The Sources of Tension in Afghanistan & Pakistan: Regional Perspectives policy research project (2011-present) explores the main sources of tension in Afghanistan and Pakistan and regional actors’ roles in relation to these. It maps their interests; produces specific policy analysis useful for UN, EU and European government stakeholders, as well as Afghan and Pakistani policymakers; and clarifies the type of regional, comprehensive approach required of the international community in this strategic region.


The project’s activities include a number of series of papers, research initiatives, closed expert roundtable seminars and public conferences, involving regional experts in addition to policymakers from Europe (including Norway, Spain and the EU).


The focus in 2013 was on the consolidation and expansion of the network of regional experts and analysts; listening to the perspectives of stakeholders from the region in relation to project findings (in Qatar, Shanghai and Beijing, Kabul, Islamabad, Delhi and Moscow); monitoring the activities, policy statements and investments of the key five regional powers, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan; and building on the collective knowledge from the earlier phases of the project. Discussions and briefings were held in Oslo and Madrid and a high-level international Conference on the Futures of Afghanistan and Pakistan was held in Barcelona at the end of 2013.


In 2014, the focus is on “accommodation and change”, with an enhanced emphasis on Pakistan. It will see a comparative analysis of changes within the region from 2013 onwards, and an examination of how the regional powers’ policies adjust to prevailing new realities.


It will analyse the impact of regionally-relevant internal and cross-border sources of tension, including the activities of non-state actors, and will continue to provide contextual analysis on the development of bilateral relations between key regional powers as new scenarios unfold.


It will further develop the network of local, regional and international partners collaborating with the project, as well as monitoring Track II diplomacy, regional organisations as vehicles for dialogue, shifting economic alliances, and exploring opportunities for dialogue and peace building.


The internal political, economic and social dynamics both in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the light of a new/renewed relationship between the latter, with the region and with the West will also be analysed.


Publications Under STAP-RP project:




>> For the Policy Research Papersproduced under the STAP RP, go to this page




>> For the Perspectives from the Region in 2013, go this page




>> For Monitoring the Regional Powers - Pakistan, go to this page


>> For Monitoring the Regional Powers - Afghanistan, go to this page




>> Mapping the Sources of Tension and the Interests of Regional Powers in Afghanistan and Pakistan (pdf 341kB)
(December 2012, updated March 2014 and January 2015 (additional publications and readings)


This Mapping Document draws on ten expert papers commissioned under the CIDOB project “Sources of Tension in Afghanistan & Pakistan: A Regional Perspective” (STAP RP), together with the analytical outputs of project round table seminars and in-region research (September 2011-November 2012); and interviews with a wide range of stakeholders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Europe over the same period. The document schematically summarizes policy research findings on the sources of tension with regional implications that affect Afghanistan and Pakistan; and identifies the interests of, and related “red lines” for, the five main implicated regional powers: India, Iran, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.