The Iranian regime’s determination to undermine Western influence in its region of the world never ceases to amaze. Iran is reportedly investing $100 million annually towards Afghanistan’s media sector, civil society, and religious schools in an effort to use ‘soft power’ to tap into shared cultural, language, and historical links with the Afghan people to wield influence over the country and possibly even create a power base in Afghanistan.
Information that Iran is meddling in Afghanistan’s media prompted Kabul’s intelligence department to lead investigations that would expose a weekly newspaper, Ensaf, and television channels Tamadon and Noor for receiving financial support from the Islamic Republic. Following the revelation, a Tamadon employee admitted to salary fluctuations based on the Iranian rial and to being subject to office propaganda advocating for protests against Afghanistan’s Strategic Partnership Agreement with America. Standardized labeling of Israel as “the Zionist regime” was also reported.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (Photo: AP)
According to reports, Iran exercises influence over one-third of Afghanistan’s media outlets by providing content and funding, stirring concerns that Afghanistan will mimic Iraq, whose satellite TV channels and radio stations are largely financed by Tehran.
Still, NATO’s Chicago summit meeting earlier this month endorsed the withdrawal of 130,000 foreign troops from Afghanistan by 2014 and the transfer of security control to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013. This “irreversible” transition, as President Obama called it, provoked the president to declare the 2014 deadline as a symbol that “the war as we understand it is over”. Security analysts, however, warn that withdrawing combat forces could increase the current levels of instability in Afghanistan by creating power vacuum opportunities for neighbors, such as Iran, and insurgents, many backed by Iran. The revelation that Iran is now making a run to control Afghanistan’s media only makes such theories more plausible.
As an active donor in Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2001, Iranian efforts to wield influence while exploiting Afghanistan’s fragility have not faltered. The U.S. should only expect it to continue.