US and Iranian Strategic Competition: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia

US and Iranian competition in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan has taken on renewed significance amid recent elections in Pakistan, and the upcoming Transition in Afghanistan. Rising anxiety over the withdrawal of US forces, ongoing regional instability, and continued tension over Iran’s nuclear program contribute to escalating competition between the US-Iranian competition in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan.

The Burke Chair at CSIS is issuing a series of new analyses of this competition, and  the new report entitled US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Impact of Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan is now available on the CSIS web site at

This new report provides a detailed analysis of Iran’s political and economic links to Afghanistan, as well as to Pakistan, India, and each of the Central Asian states. It identifies how each such relationship is both effected by -- and can shape -- US-Iranian competition.

It explains Tehran’s links to western Afghanistan, its unique relationship with the Taliban, and the importance of Iran for facilitating key exports from the region. It highlights how the US-Iranian competition impacts Iran-Pakistan relations, and the threats that closer Iran-Pakistan ties could pose to US security interests.

It also focuses on Iran’s relations with India and each Central Asian state. As the US and its NATO allies prepare to withdraw most of their forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the competition with Iran, tensions with Pakistan, India’s strategic ties to Iran, and the decline in US aid and military ties to Central Asia could all change the nature of US and Iranian strategic competition in this region.

Much will depend, however, on the intensity of US and Iranian competition in the Gulf and Levant, and whether the tensions between the US and Iran in other areas lead to any form of clash or conflict.  Iran has little incentive to confront the US in this region unless it feels it has to find every fault line it can to pressure or attack the US – conditions which do not now exist.

If the intensity of US and Iranian com petition continues at something close to its current level, Iran will seek to both advance its own interest in the region and find ways to ease the pressure of US, EU, and UN sanctions, but an analysis of trade patterns and Iranian opportunities to expand its energy exports indicate Iran can only have limited near to mid-term success. It is more likely concentrate on the security of its eastern borders, make marginal gains in trade with Central Asia, and seek to expand its role in Afghanistan largely to ensure that it does not face another Taliban-like threat after most US and ISAF forces leave.

The report has the following table of contents: 

Table of contents
Introduction 1
Afghanistan 3
Iran’s Current Relations with Afghanistan 4
Iran’s Political Role in Afghanistan 5
Iran, the Taliban, and Insurgents 5
Iran, the Hazara, and Afghan Ethnic Groups 6
Iran’s Role in Western Afghanistan 6
Iranian-Afghan Trade 7
Water Issues 7
Narcotics and Border Security 7
Afghan Migration 8
Iran’s Evolving Interests in Post-Transition Afghanistan 9
Implications for US Policy 10
Pakistan 12
The Impact of Growing US-Pakistani Tension 14
Iranian-Pakistani Relations 16
The Baluch and Other Regional Issues 17
Sunni-Shia Issues 17
Nuclear Issues 18
Implications for US Policy 18
India and Indian-Pakistani Energy Imports 20
Indian Petroleum Imports from Iran and Trade 20
Indian Aid and Strategic Relations with Afghanistan 21
Indian Aid to Iran 22
Energy Exports to India and Pakistan 22
Central Asia 25
Figure 1: Central Asia and Its Ethnic Divisions 25
US Interests in Central Asia 25
Figure 2: The Northern Distribution Network, Central Asia, and the Pakistan Supply Route 27
Figure 3: US Assistance to the Central Asian States 28
Iranian Interests in Central Asia 28
Turkmenistan. 29
US and Turkmen Relations 30
Impact of the Afghan War 30
Energy Issues 31
Iranian and Turkmen Relations 32
A Link to the Rest of Central Asia 32
The Gas Trade and Energy Politics 32
Water and Other Resources 33
Implications for US Policy 33
Uzbekistan 34
US and Uzbek Relations 35
Iranian and Uzbek Relations 36
Implications for US Policy 37
Tajikistan 37
US and Tajik Relations. 40
Iranian and Tajik Relations 40
Implications for US Policy 41
Kazakhstan 42
US and Kazakh Relations 43
Iranian and Kazakh Relations 44
Transportation Corridors, Energy, and Trade 44
Nuclear Issues 45
Implications for US Policy 45
Kyrgyzstan 46
US and Kyrgyz Relations 47
Iranian and Kyrgyz Relations 48
Implications for US Policy. 49

This report will be updated and issued as a CSIS eBook, Please send any comments and suggestions to

Other current reports in this series, and the web sites for obtaining the reports, include:
  • THE GULF MILITARY BALANCE Volume I: The Conventional and Asymmetric Dimensions – This report examines Iran’s conventional and asymmetric military forces in detail, and the balance of forces in the Gulf Region.
  • THE GULF MILITARY BALANCE Volume II: The Missile and Nuclear Dimensions This report looks at Iran’s Missile and Nuclear forces, the options for missile defense and contaiment, and the possible nbature and outcomne of US and Israeli preventive strikes.
  • THE GULF MILITARY BALANCE Volume III: The Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula: This report examines the growing US security partnership with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – established as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).


Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

Robert M. Shelala II, Nori Kasting, Sam Khazai, Sean Mann