Friday, March 12, 2010

IR Iran's 'Double Game' in Afghanistan

Tweet It! /

It must have felt very uncomfortable for President Hamid Karzai to have his guest and "brother", Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, use a press conference in Kabul to attack Afghanistan's main donor and ally, the United States. "They themselves created terrorists and now they're saying that they are fighting terrorists," said Ahmadinejad, accusing the US of playing a "double game" in Afghanistan. Ahmadinejad was in fact returning a compliment by the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, who only hours earlier had accused Tehran of "playing a double game" of offering friendship to the Afghan government while at the same time giving "low-level support" and money to the Taliban. Karzai had always hoped to be the mediator between Iran and America, yet on this occasion, unwittingly, he became the messenger of abuse. He looked distinctly uneasy in the press conference, never knowing what Ahmadinejad may come up with in his next sentence. "Your country is located on the other side of the world, so what are you doing here?" said Ahmadinejad, criticising the US presence in Afghanistan. Yet he didn't seem to be full of novel ideas for resolving the complex web of problems facing Afghanistan. He suggested empowering "the Afghan government, the legal Afghan government, and the legal government's running of the country and its security issues".

His stress on the word "legal" was not without reason. Like his own second term, Karzai's election was marred by fraud. Both men in fact share the precarious status of being regarded as contested presidents. They were both the first to congratulate each other after the doubtful results of their election were announced. Yet despite sharing this relative lack of authority, and despite the deep historical and cultural ties that link Iran and Afghanistan, the two men have a lot that sets them apart. In Ahmadinejad's frame of mind, Karzai is regarded as an American stooge and weak. Karzai, in turn, views Ahmadinejad as being far too much of a fundamentalist and not necessarily as well-intentioned as he likes to pretend. Thus there is lingering underlying distrust. While Karzai has frequently praised Iran's aid, he is watching cautiously where Iran's hundreds of millions of dollars are spent. Although much has gone towards drug eradication and humanitarian aid, the bulk of projects funded by Iran are focused in Herat province in western Afghanistan, near the border with Iran. Funds have been pouring in for road and rail reconstruction along the main transit route between the two countries. This aids the flow of trade – especially non-oil exports from Iran to Afghanistan – steadily rising from over £50m in 2001, now estimated to be £665m. (Read more...)