Landlocked Afghanistan lies in the heart of Asia. It links three major cultural and geographic regions: the Indian subcontinent to the southeast, Central Asia to the north, and the Iranian Plateau in the west. Geography may not be destiny, but it has set the course of Afghan history for millennia. Even today Afghanistan continues to share cross-border populations, trade links, labor migrations, and cultural ties that transcend current nation-state boundaries. Although Afghanistan’s relationship with its southeastern neighbor, Pakistan, receives considerable scrutiny, its relationship with its other neighbors to the west and north—China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—has received much less attention.
To address this issue, the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) and the Hollings Center for International Dialogue cosponsored a seminar in Istanbul in July 2008 entitled “Afghanistan’s Other Neighbors: Iran, Central Asia, and China.” Building on a path-breaking July 2007 AIAS-Hollings Center conference on the Durand Line, the contested border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the seminar brought together a diverse and interdisciplinary group of 26 prominent scholars, diplomats, former government officials, and NGO representatives from Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics, the European Union, Turkey, and the United States. Discussions explored the past, present, and future connections between Afghanistan and its northern and western neighbors. The seminar concluded that Afghanistan’s long-term prospects for political stability and economic prosperity depend on strengthening its links with these neighbors. Both the Afghan government and the international community therefore must give far greater attention to the structure of these relationships, their present status, and their future prospects when creating development and security policies for Afghanistan. A report of this conference was released in February 2009 to summarize the key discussion points and conclusions.