President Donald Trump, acting on his campaign promise, has taken the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. Consequently, the United States will soon re-impose stringent nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran, despite a lack of clear evidence that it was violating the agreement, and even as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had verified Iran’s compliance. President Trump has also threatened to impose sanctions on nations supporting Iran, which could have far-reaching strategic consequences for South Asia as well as the administration’s new strategy in the subcontinent.Iran’s ability to expand its strategic space while under tremendous U.S. pressure in the past has direct implications for the conflict in Afghanistan and the current security environment in South Asia more broadly.
Tehran is a crucial and pragmatic regional actor in South Asia, having deftly secured its interests in the region over the past decade despite its tensions with Washington. Following 9/11, Iran confronted a strategic dilemma as it found itself sandwiched between Afghanistan and Iraq, both countries with massive U.S. military presence in the years after the deadly attacks. In response, Tehran gradually expanded its footprint in the region to advance its interests, supporting the government in Kabul and developing contacts with the Afghan Taliban in recent years. Similarly, when the international community imposed stringent oil-related sanctions on Iran, Tehran continued to sell petroleum products to India. Iran’s ability to expand its strategic space while under tremendous U.S. pressure in the past has direct implications for the conflict in Afghanistan and the current security environment in South Asia more broadly.
Hot Afghan Summer and IranIncreased support from Iran could embolden the Taliban to continue to opt to fight over talks, complicating U.S. attempts to bring the insurgent group to the negotiating table.
Afghanistan is in the midst of a spring offensive launched by the Taliban: as in the past, despite the onset of the holy month of Ramadan, no ceasefire has been announced. The latest attack was carried out during a night-time cricket match, killing at least eight people in Jalalabad. Violence has spiked at a time when the Afghan government is also preparing for long-delayed parliamentary and local elections scheduled for October. The Taliban has an interest in undermining the political process, which they view as illegitimate, and have allegedly received logistical support from Iran to do so. With escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear deal, Iranian hawks can view the upcoming Afghan elections as an opportunity to undermine the United States’ claims of progress and stability in Afghanistan. Increased support from Iran could embolden the Taliban to continue to opt to fight over talks, complicating U.S. attempts to bring the insurgent group to the negotiating table.
Uncertainty Over ChabaharThe renewed and expanded sanctions regime will slow down development and operations at the Chabahar port, as multinational companies review their approach of engaging with and doing business in Iran.