The newly elected President Barack Obama seems not to have yet a clear idea about Iran’s policy, only a confused one. Obama stated clearly that Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is “unacceptable”, but at the same time wants to engage Iran to seek a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. The Obama administration apparently believes that involving Iran into a solution of Afghanistan’s problem can be useful for beginning US-Iranian negotiations.
However, if on one side it could be legitimate to look for negotiations with Iran - as the same George W. Bush administration tried to do in several meetings with Iranian representatives in Iraq - on the other side it doesn’t seem clear why Afghanistan should be the field to experiment a cooperation with Iran. Some Western newspapers answered by saying that Iran, being a “Shi’a country”, is as much against the “Sunni” Taliban as Washington is. But this seems to be a very naive picture of the situation.
It is nothing new that the Iranian regime, having hegemonic ambitions in the region, is seeking more influence in the bordering Afghanistan. Hence, engaging Iran could only mean to enable Tehran to pursue its interests in Afghanistan, not ours.
In 2007, the BBC published an article stating that while Afghan opium is smuggled into Iran, [intelligence reports sent from Afghani agents in Iran], weapons come into Afghanistan. Furthermore, in the past couple of years, Gulf media have been describing how Iran is investing in Herat, 160 kilometres from the Iranian border, supporting the city’s Shiites, and creating ethnic tensions.
Afghani police have also stressed that Iran has been supplying weapons to the “Sunni” Taliban. Tehran is actually not new to “unholy” alliances, as we have seen with Hamas in Gaza and with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, in order to fight against a common enemy. The recent kidnapping of a senior Iranian diplomat in Pakistan could signal the start of tensions between alleged al-Qaeda militants and Iran. Iran’s active involvement could destabilize the Taliban, but would bring Afghanistan under Iran’s influence.
Hence, Obama - who has also suggested to start a dialogue with the moderate fringe of the Taliban, which is an idea to be assessed - should first understand the real intentions behind Tehran’s will to cooperate with the US.
Iran has been looking for a cooperation with the US on the Aghani issue since 2001, because it wants to be part of the decision-making process on Afghanistan’s political future. At the time, some Iranian political circles were saying that Iran should secure its interests by cooperating with the US, not by antagonizing it. The idea was to exploit the Washington’s need to have allies in the region in order to advance Iran’s own national interests.
In 2001, Majlis Member Reza Yousefian said that, despite differences of opinion with the US, Iran should engage in a dialogue, in order to raise Iran’s demands also on the future of Afghanistan and compel the US to accept its conditions.
The Obama administration could therefore deteriorate the situation in the country. The US and the West cannot repeat their past mistakes, exploiting Afghanistan to confront Russia during the Cold War.
In that period, the US worked with the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) training radical elements, instead of democratic ones, to win over the Soviet Union. The strategy resulted in the empowerment of extremist mujahedeens. When the USSR pulled out its forces, victory was declared by the US, which packed its bags and left. But the post-soviet situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, turning against the US.
Afghanistan needs more investments and financial aids from the West and needs a strong US committed in bringing peace, democracy and in developing the country. Obama cannot start experiments at the expenses of the Afghani people. Afghanistan is no place to have the new Obama administration to train itself in diplomacy.