Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Afghanistan

Tensions Simmer Between Tehran, Kabul

Afghan customs officers man a checkpoint at the Iranian border. But Iran's influence in Afghanistan is felt in more than just commerce.
Afghan customs officers man a checkpoint at the Iranian border. But Iran's influence in Afghanistan is felt in more than just commerce.
By Frud Bezhan
Iran's influence in Afghanistan is set in concrete: new roads crisscross the country, power grids supply remote cities with electricity, and planned railways form ties that bind.

Tehran's also leaves its mark in less obvious ways, for example through its export of cultural and political views, strong media presence, and the funding of religious schools.

But even while welcoming the much-needed assistance, Kabul has always warily eyed Tehran's advances.

Now that caution has given way to tension, leading observers to warn that Tehran is poised to make Afghanistan an ideological battleground should Kabul not see things its way.

The tipping point, says Najib Mahmoud, professor of political science at Kabul University, is the recent signing of a long-term strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the United States.

"This agreement might make Iran feel like it is surrounded," Mahmoud says. "Secondly, if the U.S. maintains control in Afghanistan, considering the state of relations between Iran and the U.S., Tehran will feel that Afghanistan could be a threat in the future. And this will create tension between the two countries."

U.S. soldiers patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers in Kandahar Province, a connection Tehran would like to see end.
U.S. soldiers patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers in Kandahar Province, a connection Tehran would like to see end.
The agreement signed on May 1, while light on specifics, is intended to signify the United States' financial and security commitment to Afghanistan through 2024. On the military level, the security pact sets general terms for the funding and maintenance of a large Afghan National Army.

Although not yet determined, the U.S. commitment could entail a small contingent of troops staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when foreign combat troops are scheduled to leave. The remaining U.S. troops would assist Afghan forces in defending Kabul's sovereignty, including taking part in actual combat missions against external threats.

Mahmoud says the prospect of a large Afghan military backed by the U.S. military and Western financial clout is a source of deep concern for Iran.

Tehran, he explains, fears that an extended U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would provide Washington a strategic advantage to conduct surveillance and perhaps even future military attacks on Iran.

Tensions Rise, Accusations Fly

In the wake of the signing, Kabul-Tehran relations have soured considerably.

Last week, Afghan officials expressed outrage after Iran's newly appointed ambassador to Kabul reportedly demanded Afghan lawmakers reject the U.S.-Afghan agreement, which has to be ratified by the Afghan Senate and parliament before it can go into effect.

The diplomat, Abul Fazal Zahrawand, also reportedly threatened to expel all Afghan refugees -- estimated to number around 1 million -- from Iran if Afghan officials failed to heed his demands. Afghan lawmakers responded by publicly accusing Tehran of meddling in Afghanistan's domestic affairs.

Afghan citizens Syed Kamal (in black) and Syed Hussain were arrested on charges of spying for Iran.Afghan citizens Syed Kamal (in black) and Syed Hussain were arrested on charges of spying for Iran.
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Afghan citizens Syed Kamal (in black) and Syed Hussain were arrested on charges of spying for Iran.
Afghan citizens Syed Kamal (in black) and Syed Hussain were arrested on charges of spying for Iran.
As the diplomatic row played out, Afghan intelligence leaked a video purporting to show two Afghan men confessing to spying for Iran and attempting to carry out terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. They admitted to belonging to Sipah-e Mohammad, a group of Afghan refugees who allegedly received training by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The Revolutionary Guards, the men claimed, were recruiting and providing training for Afghan militants from the Taliban movement and the extremist Hizb-e Islami group in training camps inside Iran.

Adding to the growing discord, Afghan intelligence announced that allegations that up to 40 Afghan members of parliament were on Tehran's payroll were being investigated. And Iranian-funded media outlets also came under scrutiny for alleged incitement of anti-American and antigovernment sentiment.

A Battleground, Once Again

Afghan political commentator Wahid Muzhda says that the further escalation of tensions could have grave consequences for Kabul. The worst-case scenario, he explains, could even see Afghanistan once again become the battleground for a regional proxy war.

After the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the collapse of the subsequent regime in Kabul in the early1990s, Afghanistan's neighbors funded, armed, and trained their Afghan proxies to gain regional leverage -- a move that fuelled the country's descent into civil war.

Iran provided assistance to Afghan Shi'ite and Persian-speaking groups, while Pakistan, with the aid of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, armed Sunni Islamists in Pakistan who later gained control of Afghanistan.

An Afghan woman who was deported from Iran to Afghanistan looks on with other returnees at the provincial refugee agency office in Herat city.
An Afghan woman who was deported from Iran to Afghanistan looks on with other returnees at the provincial refugee agency office in Herat city.
Muzhda says it's "natural" the Kabul's U.S. pact would "worry" its neighbors. "When this deal was signed, without doubt, proxy war has looked like more of a possibility. Why? Because Iran and the U.S. will probably not fight directly," he adds. "Afghanistan is the best place for them to put pressure on the U.S. This will make Iran's opposition to the Afghan government and the U.S. much clearer."

Although Muzhda notes there is evidence that neighboring countries such as Iran are interfering in its domestic affairs, he says Kabul may have to pull its punches.

This is because Afghanistan depends heavily on its larger and more powerful neighbors for energy supplies and trade, in addition to its stability and security.

"Our trade routes go through our neighbors. If Pakistan and Iran close their borders for a week, even if they are not at war against us, you can imagine what would happen," Muzhda says. "It is necessary for us to have good relations with our neighbors."

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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by: Anonymous from: USA
May 16, 2012 02:47
I'm all for pulling USA/NATO troops out. Let Iran, Russia, and China fight the Taliban--Pakistan's proxy warriors! We should also cut off aid to Pakistan as well. China will be their only friend, until the Taliban starts training Uiygars as terrorists in Western China. Pakistan is a failed state that will eventually have no international friends whatsoever!

by: ahmed from: hp
May 17, 2012 15:16
This report of REF/RL says : ---" Adding to the growing discord, Afghan intelligence announced that allegations that up to 40 Afghan members of parliament were on Tehran's payroll were being investigated. And Iranian-funded media outlets also came under scrutiny for alleged incitement of anti-American and antigovernment sentiment.---"

When any nation thinks of safeguarding its sovereignty, it has to chase many matters. Not the least among them is (a) an independent news media (b) members of parliament with absolute integrity and patriotism.
To ensure such things, the country needs to frame rules about FOREIGN CONTRIBUTIONS.
Normally no Afghan citizen should be allowed accept money which is meant to fund any political party ( or political activity) in Afghanistan.
Also, no Afghan newspaper owners should be allowed to accept money from foreign sources.

Afghans should have a free , independent news media, and the loyalty of Afghan politicians should not be purchasable by outsiders.

Subversion is a menace to any weak nation.

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