This year, much of the media’s attention has been focused on Pakistan’s role in fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan, and rightly so. For decades, western Pakistan has been a refuge and headquarters for extremists who want to cause mischief in this country, sometimes abetted by the government in Islamabad.
But more and more, Afghan insurgents are looking west to Iran as a source of arms. Nobody in the US military or State Department will say much about this, probably because they have enough problems with Iran and don’t want to further rock the boat. This Reuters story quotes top US officials as admitting there is a relationship between Iran and insurgents, but those officials play down the relationship, probably for the reason stated above.
“Certainly, the Iranians have in the past provided some arms to some groups inside Afghanistan,” says a senior advisor to Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama’s Af/Pak special envoy.
Afghans on the other hand, are certain that their neighbor to the west is bent on causing Afghanistan as much trouble as possible.
“Of course Iran is helping the insurgents,” says an Afghan friend who works with the US military near Herat. “They want to kill Americans, just like the Taliban.”
Shiite Iran has long tried to influence goings on across the border but was never comfortable with the Sunni Taliban. After the Soviet backed regime here was toppled, Iran’s leaders tried–by backing Shiite/Tajik warlords–to make sure that a friendly government came to power in Kabul. (At this same time and for the same reasons, Pakistan was trying to make sure that the Taliban came to power by funding them, creating a literal tug of war.)
After the Talibs took power, Iran gave Afghan Hazaras refuge and even trained Afghan militants to resist the Taliban government. But as with so much in this world, 9/11 changed everything.
When the US invaded Afghanistan, Iran’s mullah’s made it clear that they did not want NATO in the neighborhood. In a televised speech shortly after 9/11, Ayatollah Khamenei said that ”The Islamic Republic of Iran will not offer any assistance to America and its alliance in their attacks…”
Since that time, Iran has offered cash and weapons to insurgents in Afghanistan, hoping to create instability. Why would Iran want to destabilize Afghanistan?
Iran hates the US presence on its border, especially because the US is also still in Iraq (remember?), creating an uncomfortable sandwich effect for the leaders in Tehran. What’s more, a pro-western government in Afghanistan isolates Iran in a region where right now, they are the big dog on the block in every sense.
I don’t think this is yet a full-on proxy war or anything. Reports say that Iran’s role is limited to cash and weapons, but I haven’t heard anything about training camps. But inject another 40,000 Americans into Afghanistan, as may soon happen, and perhaps we may see Iran become a bit more ambitious.
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