The Americans want to remain in Afghanistan after the expiration of the UN Security Council mandate in 2014; they are only waiting for the acquiescence of President Hamid Karzai, who for now refuses to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Washington. Kabul states that China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Turkey and the countries of Central Asia have expressed support for the agreement. The only country which has objected to the signing of an agreement between Afghanistan and the United States is Iran. Within the next few days the president of Afghanistan will arrive for an official visit to Iran to discuss the prospects of an Afghan-American agreement.
Tehran believes that U.S. and NATO military presence could have negative consequences both for Afghanistan and for the region as a whole. The Iranians may be right in fearing that Afghanistan could be used by the U.S. to regulate the threat level to states bordering on Afghanistan to its own advantage. However, Afghanistan's other neighbors do not agree with the position of Iran's leadership; they are certain that, on the contrary, without American military support the Afghan police and army, to which responsibility for over 70% of the country's territory has already been transferred, will most likely be unable to maintain order and safety.
Even now over 100 men are killed and 300 wounded in the Afghan national police and local defense brigades each week, and there is no reason to believe that these losses will decrease or the intensity of armed conflict will decline after the Americans leave. A resumption of the active phase of the civil war is predicted, and warnings of the likelihood that the bloody "Syrian scenario" will repeat itself are being heard, as no one political group today is capable of establishing a stable balance of powers. The inevitability of an escalation of the situation in the country after the Americans leave frightens everyone, but it seems that Tehran considers it to be the lesser of two evils. For the Iranians it is more important not to allow the continued long-term American occupation of Afghanistan up to the year 2024, as provided for in the draft agreement which so far Karzai does not want to sign…
From the perspective of international law, Iranian diplomacy has every reason to press its neighbor not to agree to U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, as the UN Security Council mandate is ending, and the Americans plan to stay there by agreement with the acting Afghan government, which in spring 2014, after the presidential election, may not even exist anymore. Iran plans to continue persuading the Afghan leadership to turn down the agreement with the Americans.
Kabul understands that Iran is trying to put up barriers for the U.S. and other Western countries in order to create conditions for strengthening its own influence in the region. Iran is attempting to simultaneously build relations with both the Afghan government and the Afghan Shiite minority. The Iranian regime's promotion of its own ideology is creating tension between Sunnites and Shiites. Some are also accusing Tehran of "cultural invasion" and trying to control Afghanistan using the media and religious activities. Currently in Afghanistan 6 television channels and 15 radio stations are operating on Iranian money. Afghan intelligence agencies periodically report that Tehran is supporting pro-Iranian anti-government rebel groups in various regions of the country. The Afghan government has more than once stated that Tehran is not honoring the strategic cooperation agreement between Iran and Afghanistan. Apparently Kabul has plenty of complaints against the Afghan policy of its neighbor to the west.
But Iran's anti-American policy suits the leaders of the Taliban movement, which is urging President Karzai to decline the agreement with the Americans. The Talibs' logic is clear: they do not want continued American occupation because they hope to return to Kabul as victors in the coming civil war. While one may doubt the victory of the Taliban, there is no doubt in their plans to start this war. It is impossible to maintain stability in Afghanistan without including the Taliban in the existing political system, but the Talibs do not intend to take part in the upcoming presidential election in April 2014, preferring the "right of force". Kabul has little chance of reaching a mutual understanding with the Talibs, as do the Americans. Nevertheless, Kabul is looking for ways to get the Talibs to the negotiating table. The Americans, for their part, are also counting on renewing direct contacts with the Taliban.
Many experts believe that Iran also has its own "Iranian Talibs"; in any case, not only have the Iranians not gone to war with the Talibs, often they have come to agreements on the division of spheres of influence. Such agreements cannot be ruled out in the new situation either. In order to achieve its goals, the Talibs could very well lean on Iran's shoulder; after all, in their minds the Iranians are much better than the Americans and do not make any claims to all of Afghanistan. Iran is seeking to dominate in the Shiite region of the country; this is approximately 15% of the population of Afghanistan, whose representatives could never come to power in the country. Tehran has traditionally tried to have a firm foothold in regions with a dense population of ethnic Tajiks. Note that the former president of the IRI, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, made it his goal to revive Persian nationalism, in contrast to the position of Iranian spiritual leaders, who believe that the foundation of Iranian identity can only be Islam. The Tajiks in Afghanistan are included in the sphere of Iran's interests and have always been supported by the Iranians.
The fact that Tehran could significantly increase the number of its supporters in Afghanistan through the compulsory return of Afghan refugees, of which there are over 3 million in Iran, almost half of them illegally, must also be taken into account. The majority of Afghans in Iran have assimilated with the Iranians, speak the same language, and have much in common with regard to culture and lifestyle. In November 2012 the Iranian government made the decision to deport over 1.6 million Afghan refugees to their homeland by the end of 2015. This caused a vigorous objection from Kabul; nevertheless, the deportation of Afghan refugees from Iran has already begun. Finally, Tehran is the main benefactor of Herat, one of the largest provinces of Afghanistan, located in the western part of the country and bordering on Iran. The majority of the population of Herat are Shiites, and during the years of the previous civil war they fiercely resisted the Taliban forces. Now Iranian investments in the economy of Herat have made it possible to increase the volume of two-way border trade to almost 2 billion dollars (data for 2012).
Besides the expansion of trade, reconstruction work, the construction of educational centers and investments in infrastructure, Iran is paying special attention to cooperating with the authorities in neighboring Afghan provinces in fighting the illegal drug trade. Here Iran has very serious complaints against the Americans.
During the 12 years the ISAF troops have been in Afghanistan, this country has produced and exported more heroin than any other country in the world. The Americans set foot on Afghan soil in 2001, when the smallest volume of opium was produced since 1992, only 185 tons. The years of foreign occupation led to a nearly 40-fold increase in drug production in Afghanistan. The Western coalition made Afghanistan the sole leader among the drug traders of the entire planet. Today 80% of the world opium poppy harvest is gathered in Afghanistan. Iran is on the transit corridor between Afghanistan, which produces raw opium, and its consumers in Europe. The government of Iran spends over 800 million dollars each year on fighting the illegal drug trade. But international organizations give Iran very little money for fighting the drug trade, a total of around 15 million dollars.
Iran's fight against the drug trade is extremely effective. For comparison, while Russian law enforcement agencies are only able to seize around 4 percent of the heroin and opiates entering the country, Iran seizes around 33 percent. Iran is a world leader in the seizure of drugs and an important partner of the UN in fighting their distribution. In recent years over 700 kilometers of trenches have been dug on the Iranian-Afghan border and extensive border fortifications have been built, including barriers made of barbed wire and concrete walls. The Iranian government has redeployed thousands of security service and other law enforcement personnel to the eastern part of the country. Iran accounts for 80% of the opium and 40% of the morphine seized throughout the world. Over the past five years Iranian special services have seized an average of 600 tons of drugs from smugglers each year. Through the fault of the Americans, who have given up fighting the Afghan drug business, drugs have become a national disaster for Iran itself; there are already around 2 million drug addicts in the country.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who was in Kabul recently, is confident that the Afghan government will sign a bilateral agreement before the start of 2014. The Iranians, on the other hand, will attempt to dissuade Hamid Karzai from signing the Afghan-American pact during the Afghan president's upcoming visit to Tehran. Tehran would not like to see the Americans remain in Afghanistan for long years to come.