There have been growing calls in recent years for regional actors – whether individual countries or regional organizations – to engage more fully with Afghanistan. Following the political transition to a new presidency and Western troop drawdowns in 2014, there may now be more space for regional involvement in the country. That the Afghan state has proven more resilient than anticipated in the face of recent political and security challenges may be helpful in this respect.
In the past, efforts to forge a regional approach to Afghanistan have been complicated by neighbours’ perceptions of its problems as peripheral to other challenges and concerns. Pakistan, for example, subordinates its relationship with Afghanistan to its foreign policy objectives with respect to India. This may be changing, however.
Initiatives emphasizing Afghanistan’s strategic centrality to its neighbourhood, and its potential as a transport hub, must compete with an alternative view that locates the country on the edge of several regions.
Prospects for collective engagement vis-à-vis Afghanistan remain generally poor, but China’s increasing diplomatic activity could have a positive impact given the common interests between China and the West in stability in Afghanistan. In particular, China’s influence over Pakistan – still the most important regional actor for Afghanistan’s stability – could encourage the latter to play a more constructive role, for example by supporting dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The effectiveness of regional engagement will depend, above all, on a domestic political settlement that includes an accommodation between the Afghan government and the Taliban.