31 October 2009

Iran's Help in Afghanistan

First of all let me say my thanks to Pat for starting this blog. It is nice to get those analytical gears turning again after taking some time off.

First, I would like to bring attention to the history of Iran and Taliban relations. Iran was the largest supporter of the Northern Alliance pre 9/11. Actually I would argue that the only reason the Northern Alliance existed was because of Iran. Relations between the Taliban and Iran were never any friendly, but Taliban became a clear enemy of Iran when the Taliban took control of Mazari Sharif on 08AUG1998 and killed 8 Iranian diplomats. On top of killing the Iranian diplomats it is reported that the Taliban systematically sought out hundreds of the Shia minority in the city and executed them. This spurred Iran to deploy over 70,000 troops to the Afghanistan border in preparation for an invasion to depose the Taliban. The UN was able to diffuse the situation, but the relations between the Taliban and Iran never improved. Now I pose the question, “Was this a missed opportunity to get rid of the Taliban and prevent 9/11?”

Now I would like to point out the help Iran gave during the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001. The United States would not have been able to even think of using the Northern Alliance as a military force without Iran’s contacts and help. It was in both countries interest to see the Taliban gone from Afghanistan. The US pressed Iran for intelligence while providing none of its own to Iran. It has also been reported that some Iranian Revolutionary Guards fought alongside the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Even after the Taliban was deposed the Iranians stepped in and played a decisive role in persuading the Northern Alliance to take a smaller role than they wanted in the interim government.

How does the United States respond to the help Iran gave in late 2001? Iran was placed on the Axis of Evil list during Bush’s State of the Union Address during January 2002. This severely undermined President Muhammad Khatami’s reformist movement in Iran who argued that Iran needed to thaw its relations with the United States. This gave the hardliners in Iran all the fuel they needed to rekindle their power base in the country.

I believe that the key to “solving” Afghanistan is to truly get Iran involved. Now I am not a big fan of the current hardliners in the Iranian regime, but with a new President in Office we have another opportunity to get a powerful ally against Al Qaeda and the re emerging Taliban (even if it is all behind closed doors).

Some Great Articles to Read on the Topic:
Great Article from USA Today on Iran claiming it didn’t get enough credit for its help in Afghanistan

Article on how the Neo Conservatives sabotaged Iran’s help on Al Qaeda

Current article on how Pakistan wants Iran to help stabilize Afghanistan

Good article on Iran’s investments in Afghanistan and the benefits of thawing US – Iran relations. Funny how Iran has already delivered 93% of its pledged aid while the US has only delivered 48%.

Great Video PBS on Iran’s reaction to 9/11 and their help in overthrowing the Taliban , sorry that it a bad partial youtube version of it, though…… if anyone can find the full length PBS video on “Iran’s help on Afghanistan” I would love to get the link to it. Also notice how it is likely a Sunni posted the video to show proof that the Shia helped the US invade Afghanistan.


  1. Thanks for offering this idea. I agree that getting Iran more engaged would not only help in Afghanistan, but might also help thaw US-Iran relations. Ultimately, in their quest to become the region's dominant power, it falls pretty high on their priority list to make sure Afghanistan goes their way. I haven't seen any reporting of efforts by the US to engage with them on this topic, but you would hope someone within the State Dept. has considered this?

  2. Another follow-up point and question: How can we leverage Iran's historic ties with the Northern Alliance to help resolve potential issues after the withdrawl of Abdullah Abdullah from the Afghanistan election run-off? As a close friend of the former Northern Alliance leader (Mahsoud), I would expect that Abdullah has some close connections to Iran (specifically within the IRGC-RC Quds Force). As Abdullah decides what his next steps are (call for boycott, form some sort of separtist movement, etc), it would be useful to get Iran to engage with him.

    And a related question: What do we think is Iran's desired endstate in Afghanistan? In 2001, they were strongly against the Taliban, but are they still? Do they desire just "stability" with their Eastern neighbor, do they want to allow a weak government they can manipulate (ala Karzai) to stay in place, or do they want to actively push for the downfall of any government that exists in order to make the US fail and allow them to increase their influence? If their aim is the latter, then they could potentially partner with/support the Taliban (in much the same way that they tolerate certain AQ leaders living in Iran since their interests overlap in some regards).

  3. The United States State Department has engaged with Iran on Afghanistan back in March of 2009. It was the first direct talk that the Obama Administration and Iran had together. Looks like the two countries were testing the water with each other, but who knows what went on behind doors. Here are a couple articles on it. The State Department does seem to know that Iran is key to stabilizing Afghanistan; now how much support they are going to get from the White House and other political players is yet to be determined.



  4. For the second question “what do we think is Iran’s desired end state is in Afghanistan?” I am sure they would prefer a puppet government that they can manipulate, but they likely first want a non-Taliban stable government with a growing economy that they can develop as a trading partner. Basically they want a friend in the region they can make some money off of. A stable Afghanistan is better for Iran’s regional interest. Take a look at this quote from one of the articles I linked before.
    “The western city of Herat has boomed with Iran's beneficence. Unlike most of the country, the city boasts 24-hour electricity, dozens of industrial zones, paved roads, and more. Iran is responsible for much of this, according to government officials. Elsewhere, Iran has built mosques and education centers and provided loans to Afghan businessmen. Iranian entrepreneurs have poured investment dollars into the country.
    These investments might be the driving factor in Iran's interest in the country. Afghanistan is a valuable market for the Iranians, says Weinbaum: "Iranian businessmen are operating pretty freely in Afghanistan, and more consumer goods are being exported into the country from Iran."

    Did they just write that a city in Afghanistan boasts 24-hour electricity? They sure did. I was never in a city in Iraq that had 24-hours of electricity.

    Here is another quote from an article I dug up.
    “During a June 2009 meeting between Iranian Minister of Commerce Masoud Mir Kazemi and Afghan Minister of Commerce Wahidullah Shahrani, Mir Kazemi stressed that “Iran is keen to expand its trade, economic and industrial ties with Afghanistan."”

    As to Pat’s point of the possibility of Iran allying with the Taliban to undermine the US. I believe that an alliance would only take place in the event that the United States is perceived by Iran to be seriously threatening their statehood. I am honestly surprised they did not create some sort of alliance with the Taliban when they were put on the “Axis of Evil”. That just goes to show how strong of enemies the Taliban and Iran are. I also think it is very rational for Iran to tolerate some AQ members in their country with the previous administrations foreign policy on Iran.

  5. i really thank iran for showing his humbelness in any how destroying the bloddy AMERICA.....AMRERICA your countdown has already satarted now just wait and watch