Persian Games in Afghanistan

by Joshua Foust on 5/6/2008 · 10 comments

Richard Boucher, Assistant SecState for Central and South Asia, is making funny noises:

“They (Iran) interfere in a variety of different ways, perhaps not as violently as they do sometimes in Iraq,” Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia, told reporters at a press conference.

“But what we see is Iranian interference politically, Iranian interference in terms of the money that they channel into the political process, Iranian interference in terms of playing off local officials against central government, trying to undermine the state in that way.”

Boucher was speaking in Paris as part of preparations for a major international donors’ conference for Afghanistan, due to take place in the French capital on June 12.

“In many ways they (Tehran) do support the work of the government, but they also work with the political opposition, they work with the local opposition,” Boucher added.

“They have funnelled some weapons to the Taliban, they seem kind of working with everybody to be hedging their bets, or just looking… like they want weakness or instability in Afghanistan more than anything else.”

Boucher told reporters that “several shipments” of weapons from Iran to the Taliban had been intercepted.

“I’m not sure they (Tehran) want to see the Taliban win, but I don’t think they want the government to establish good control either. I think they are just trying to hedge their bets and keep everything fluid.”

Clearly, the one thing Iran wants is for Afghanistan to remain unstable so refugees can stream across the border. Since when is Iran is working with the Taliban to do this? I’m afraid the days of the U.S. government making credible blanket statements is long over. Without evidence, all Boucher is saying is that Iran is meddling in Afghanistan’s politics to tweak the situation in its favor… exactly as the U.S. does.

Frankly, we should want Afghanistan and Iran to be on good terms. They are, after all, neighbors. And Iranian investment has been put to excellent use in Herat, and to a lesser extent elsewhere. Why would they also fund its destruction? Boucher’s comments are incoherent. Kind of like U.S. policy in the region.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Alexander May 7, 2008 at 3:59 am

Couldn’t agree more: the idea that the Iranians would assist the Taliban, who treated their co-religionists, the Hazaras, so appallingly, is ludicrous. The U.S. should have accepted Iranian overtures of assistance in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 2001, but there’s no sense in crying over spilt milk I suppose…

nykrindc May 7, 2008 at 8:34 am

I don’t know, I think there is a slight possibility that Iran is actually fomenting instability (using the Taliban) in Afghanistan, just as it is doing in Iraq. The thing is, given the ramping up of rhetoric on our side with regard to Iran, how could they not. In some ways, the Iranians, if they are engaging in destabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq, are likely thinking, better to keep the US busy there, than have them come here.

In short, I can see them using such a proxy war scenario as a means of running out the clock on the Bush administration. The added benefit, is that if done well, they can also tweak the situation further to their favor in both countries.

Matt May 7, 2008 at 9:22 am

I think nykrindc makes a good point – after all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or at the very least a useful tool. Beyond that, Boucher’s accusation just reinforces our need to not only threaten, but also engage the Iranians diplomatically.

Admiral May 7, 2008 at 11:48 am

Why is the notion that they like a little bit of instability so ludicrous? For some reason Iran is rational in exactly the same way as the author explains — despite even more sordid and incoherent comments regarding Israel and other foreign policy pronouncements — but the US by contrast is the blubbering mess. Give me a break and take off the blinders. They both could be incoherent. 🙂

Ian May 7, 2008 at 1:30 pm

ُWhether Iran is or isn’t meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan (and it certainly is in Iraq, to great effect, skipping circles around our lumbering, almost entirely non-Arabic-speaking occupation force), what is certain is that both countries, and especially Afghanistan, would have a much better chance of turning out okay if Iran and the US were playing on the same team.

There are so many points of converging interests between the two countries, and a few quick, tough decisions made on both sides could buy security benefits for all (and kick the price of oil down 20% too). Unfortunately, Boucher and Rice simply don’t realize that complaining and empty threats against Iran won’t do anything; actual diplomacy is about changing enemies into friends.

nykrindc May 7, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Ian, I totally agree. Prior to the 1979 revolution, Iran was one of our most important allies. Today, it can be so again, for many of the same reasons.

Brian May 7, 2008 at 10:35 pm

I may have said this before but I love that fact that America has:

Invaded two of Iran’s neighbors this decade and installed two governments friendly to America.

Garrisons well over a hundred thousand troops just a few hundred miles away from Iran’s borders.

Has bases in several nations that surround Iran, including navy bases which harbor ships that carry multiple nuclear warheads.

Has called Iran an “axis of evil” – shortly after Iran provided some help during the attack on the Taliban.

Has openly declared that it is spending $75 million to covertly overthrow the Iranian government.

… and yet Iran is the aggressor.

Hmm… yeah, how do you think we’d feel if, say, China invaded Mexico for some semi-legitimate reason, based hundreds of thousands of troops there and installed a pro-China government?

Oldschool Boy May 8, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Joshua you made a very good point about the refugees. When I was in Iran in 1996 I saw many refugees from Afghanistan and even Tadjikistan on streets. I think if the instability in Afghanistan continues there will be a lot more of them pouring in Iran, which I think should concern the Iran government. So, it does not seem to me that Iran would be interested in instability in Afghanistan any more than, for instance, USA would be interested in instability in Mexico or Canada

nykrindc May 8, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Still, given the rhetoric coming from this administration, I think that Iran’s government would be willing to sacrifice a little instability in Afghanistan, for a little while longer, just to wait out the Bush administration. After all, if it’s busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, it can’t very well attack Iran…or so the thinking goes.

Think of it this way, if a foreign power took over Canada and Mexico, and threatened the US, would we not foster instability in these two countries (despite the refugee flow) if only to keep that other power busy, and bloodied enough, to prevent it from attacking us?

Oldschool Boy May 9, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Well, I can’t say it is unreasonable thought. Just reminded me this movie, Charlie Wilsons War. If Americans did it to Soviets, why can’t Iranians try do the same to Americans.

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