In another sign of growing ties between Afghanistan and Iran, Afghan President Hamid Karzai attended the Iranian-sponsored conference on counterterrorism co-operation in Tehran on 25-26 June, which was also attended by the Presidents of Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan and Tajikistan. The visit was indicative of the strengthening relations between Afghanistan and Iran, which share a 936-kilometre border, and see themselves as increasingly important to each other’s long-term interests.
In recent years, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity between the two countries. For instance, last month Iranian Defence Minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, visited Kabul, which marked the first such visit by an Iranian defence minister.
The significance of the visit was outlined by the remarks made by General Vahidi who affirmed: ‘Iran considers Afghanistan’s security as its own security, [and] has put a lot of effort towards stability in Afghanistan and will continue to help in this regard.’ A similar visit was also made in March this year, when Iran’s Interior Minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, visited Afghanistan with a senior delegation.
Afghan-Iran relations have continued to expand since the advent of US intervention in Afghanistan, despite US efforts to isolate Iran. In the areas of trade and investment, Iran has played a role in fostering economic growth and infrastructure development, including plans to build a rail link connecting Mashhad to Herat, with the eventual aim of connecting Tehran and Kabul. Around one-third of Afghanistan’s energy requirements pass through Iran, and in 2010, bilateral trade reached an historic milestone of US$1 billion.
Iran’s growing influence in Afghanistan, as a partner in its future security and stability, has evidently caused friction with the US. Despite US accusations of Iranian collusion with the Taliban, which are yet to be proven, for decades Iran has backed anti-Taliban elements and retains a strong vested interest in preventing any Taliban resurgence.
As any US exit strategy will aim to maintain US influence in Afghanistan, deciding how best to deal with Iran, while preventing any Taliban resurgence, will remain a major US policy dilemma. Given that a US-Iran rapprochement appears unlikely in the foreseeable future, US planners will need to make hard decisions in formulating a viable Afghanistan exit strategy plan.
FDI Senior Analyst