Iran's Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown

Iran's Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown

Iran's Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown

Iran's Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown


This study explores Iranian influence in Afghanistan and the implications for the United States after most U.S. forces depart Afghanistan in 2016. Iran has substantial economic, political, cultural, and religious leverage in Afghanistan. Although Iran will attempt to shape a post-2014 Afghanistan, Iran and the United States share core interests: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda.


The U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan may lead to greater instability and a vacuum in that country. the Islamic Republic of Iran, one the most powerful regional actors in Afghanistan, is poised to exercise substantial influence there after the U.S. drawdown. in addition, the drawdown may provide Iran with the opportunity to strengthen ties with other powers involved in Afghanistan, such as India and Russia. Greater Iranian influence in Afghanistan could help Iran alleviate economic and political pressures resulting from its nuclear dispute.

At the same time, the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president may provide a new opportunity for greater U.S.-Iran cooperation in Afghanistan, as was the case after the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001. Both countries have convergent interests in Afghanistan, including the prevention of Taliban rule. Such potential cooperation will depend on the status of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States, and the state of overall tensions between the two nations.

This study examines Iran’s historical interests in Afghanistan and its current policies in that country. the study pays particular attention to key aspects of the Iranian-Afghan relationship, including Iran’s cultural, political, economic, and ideological ties to Afghanistan. the study explores the extent and limits of Iranian influence in Afghanistan, including Tehran’s relations with key Afghan groups and constituencies.

Furthermore, the study analyzes Iran’s relations with regional powers, such as India, Russia, and Pakistan, in light of the U.S. drawdown. Finally, the study explores the implications of Iranian influence for the United States as it withdraws most of its combat forces from Afghanistan.

This research was sponsored by a private foundation and was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the rand National Security Research Division (NSRD). nsrd conducts research and analysis on defense and national security topics for the U.S. and allied defense, foreign policy, homeland security, and intelligence communities and foundations and other nongovernmental organizations that support defense and national security analysis.

For more information on the International Security and Defense Policy Center, see http:// or contact the director (contact information is provided on the web page).

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