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Iran’s Plans for Afghanistan

Samara Greenberg

Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged Monday during a press conference that his office has been accepting “bags of money” from Iran once or twice every year containing “five or six or seven hundred thousand euros [$700,000 to $975,000].” According to Karzai, Washington knows about Iran’s assistance and also gives cash payments to the Afghan government.

While Karzai did not provide many details, he said the money is used to pay expenses in his office and that he instructed Umar Daudzai, his chief of staff and confidant, to accept it. “They have asked for good relations in return, and for lots of other things in return,” Karzai said of Iran, “And we have also asked for lots of things in return in this relationship.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (R)

The president’s announcement was made in response to a New York Times report out Saturday that accused Daudzai of receiving millions of dollars from Tehran to promote Iranian interests in Afghanistan and drive a wedge between the Afghans and their American and NATO benefactors.

Indeed, Karzai’s claim that Iran’s money is used solely for office expenses is unlikely. While Iran, like the U.S., considers the Taliban an enemy and, therefore, has a stake in supporting the Karzai government, it has also been accused of giving loads of money to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. For Iran, forcing the U.S. to leave its doorstep is goal number one – and it will pay anyone to make that happen.

Karzai, for his part, knows the United States’ days in Afghanistan are numbered, and is therefore likely interested in making friends with powerful players in the region. At the press conference this morning, President Karzai said he will continue to ask for money from Iran.

The Obama administration has yet to respond to the unfolding events. Nevertheless, that the United States’ enemy is influencing policymakers inside a torn country that the U.S. is deeply entrenched in – both physically and politically – is profoundly concerning. The notion that Tehran is interested in turning Afghanistan into yet another Iranian stronghold once the U.S. leaves is not unfounded.

Americans can only hope that facts on the ground, rather than political motivations, are taken into consideration when U.S. troops are ordered to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, currently set for July 2011.