The revelation that Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai receives millions in influence peddling payments from Iran is full of ironies. It demonstrates that the US and Iran are de facto allies in Afghanistan (in fact both of them are deeply opposed to the Taliban and their backers among hard line cells of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence). US military spokesmen have sometimes attempted to make a case that Iran is helping the hyper-Sunni, Shiite-killing, anti-Karzai Taliban, which is not very likely to be true or at least not on a significant scale (why undermine the Karzai government, which Tehran clearly likes just fine, even if there are Tajik leaders it might slightly prefer?)
The story is one example of why the US attempt to strangle Iran economically does not have a prayer of succeeding– as if Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, India and so forth are going to help with that! In the region, Iran is relatively wealthy and powerful, and able to play the role of patron.
Dexter Filkins of the NYT got the story, reporting on Saturday that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai receives millions of dollars in paper bags from Iran via his chief of staff, Umar Daudzai. Daudzai had been Afghanistan ambassador in Iran, and Tehran uses him as a channel of influence with Karzai. Daudzai is accused by US officials of poisoning Karzai’s mind about the US.
Initially Iran denied the charge. Then on Monday, the erratic Karzai confirmed it, saying that the US also gives him bag fulls of cash and it is no big deal. The Independent wryly observes that Karzai’s admission “somewhat undermines” the Iranian denials.
NBC Nightly News reports on Karzai’s defiant press conference:
Karzai, who appears not to understand the word ‘corruption,’ maintained that former US president George W. Bush was fully aware of the payments from Iran.
CSM reports that Afghanistan’s Hazara Shiite community (perhaps a fifth of the country’s population) is not on the same page with their Iranian coreligionists, since the Hazara want US and NATO troops to remain for years, whereas Iran wants them out. On the US military hopes to stay in Afghanistan with bases, see Nick Turse at Tomdispatch.
The revelations of Tehran’s support for Karzai give credence to Iranian officials’ claims of having been helpful to NATO, since they both want Karzai to succeed. Take this report, translated by the USG Open Source Center, from Tehran Islamic Republic of Iran News Network Television (IRINN) in Persian at 0633 GMT on 19 October:
“In the course of a live broadcast of the weekly news briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, showed him commenting on a recent meeting between Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki and his Canadian counterpart in which the Canadian minister reportedly called for mutual cooperation over Afghanistan.
Mehmanparast said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran supports the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Iran tries to make progress as regards combating drug trafficking in Afghanistan. Moreover, it is necessary to take some serious measures to eliminate insecurity and violence in the country. The issue of reconstruction of Afghanistan is among our priorities. In this regard, we are prepared to cooperate with every country that is willing to achieve those aims.”
The spokesman added: “We have had a lot of cooperation with various countries over this issue. We had good cooperation with Canada in this regard. Unfortunately, owing to the unfriendly and unconstructive approach adopted by Canada, the cooperation was halted. If they correct their approach, we are prepared to cooperate over Afghanistan. In order to show its goodwill, the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed some information to the Canadian government on active terrorist elements in Canada. Therefore, we are prepared to cooperate with all countries in order to restore peace and security in Afghanistan. Countries should change their approach and adopt a friendly and constructive attitude.”
All this translates as, Iran does not want Qandahar in the hands of the Taliban, and is maybe happy with Canada’s announced decision to depart by 2012.
The Iranians hate the Taliban and it is mutual. The two almost went to war with one another in 1998 over the killing of Iranian diplomats at Mazar. The Iranians backed the Northern Alliance in its dark days when al-Qaeda had it bottled up in the northeast, and Karzai is still backed by some NA warlords.