A Rock Between Hard Places

Afghanistan as an Arena of Regional Insecurity

Kristian Berg Harpviken


Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh

A victim not just of its geography but also of the political and strategic choices of its neighbours, Afghanistan and its security predicament are analysed in a book that is particularly relevant to recent developments in Central Asia.


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A Rock Between Hard Places Paperback
July 2016£35.00
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What has driven neighbouring states to intervene in the Afghan conflict? This book challenges mainstream analyses which place Afghanistan at the centre — the so-called ‘heart’ — of a large pan-Asian region whose fate is predicated on Afghan stability. Instead Harpviken and Tadjbakhsh situate Afghanistan on the margins of three regional security complexes — those of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf — each characterised by deep security rivalries, which, in turn, informs their engagement in Afghanistan. Within Central Asia, security cooperation is hampered by competition for regional supremacy and great power support, a dynamic reflected in these states’ half-hearted role in Afghanistan. In the Persian Gulf, Iran and Saudi Arabia fight for economic and political influence, mirrored in their Afghan engagements; while long-standing Indo-Pakistani rivalries are perennially played out in Afghanistan.

Based on a careful reading of the recent political and economic history of the region, and of Great Power rivalry beyond it, the authors explain why efforts to build a comprehensive Afghanistan-centric regional security order have failed, and suggest what might be done to reset inter-state relations.


Kristian Berg Harpviken is Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh teaches at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), Paris, and is Associate Researcher at PRIO.


‘This book provides an array of insights and perspectives that challenge the concept of Afghanistan being considered either a core state or on the periphery. This work strives for, and achieves, a deeper understanding of the emerging and dynamic power rivalries and geo-political influences of the regional security complexes.’ — Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs

‘There are few more insightful analysts of Afghanistan’s region than Kristian Berg Harpviken and Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh. Their new book challenges us to rethink our received understandings of how Afghanistan might relate to, and be affected by, its neighbours, and should be required reading for all scholars, diplomats and international officials interested in the stability of Southwest Asia.’ — William Maley, Professor of Diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University; author of Reconstructing Afghanistan: Civil-Military Experiences in Comparative Perspective

‘A very useful review of regional politics at a time when Afghanistan’s neighbours are more important to its fate than ever before.’ — Antonio Giustozzi, author of The Army of Afghanistan: A Political History of a Fragile Institution