Afghanistan-Iran Foreign Relations
Afghanistan and Iran share an extensive history. In the post-Islamic Revolution era, relations between the two states have been colored by Iran’s involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war, 1979-1989, its active opposition to Taliban rule, and its interference in Afghan domestic affairs since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. During the Afghan-Soviet war, Iran dispatched Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) forces to provide training and support to Shi’a groups in an effort to export the Islamic Revolution into Afghanistan. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent rise of the Taliban, Iran increased its support for the Northern Alliance, both to challenge the Sunni fundamentalists’ rule and exert its own influence over the minority Shi’a population. In 1998, the Taliban took control of the Iranian consulate in Mazar-e Sharif and killed nine Iranian diplomats. In response, Iran deployed troops to its border with Afghanistan as tensions heightened and a spokesman for the IRGC vowed, “the Taliban and the main agents responsible for this horrific crime must know that they shall never be immune to the tumultuous anger of the Islamic corps.”
Afghan-Iranian relations have improved since the fall of the Taliban and Iran has played an active role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The fragile political and security situation in Afghanistan, however, has provided the Islamic Republic with an opportunity to extend its political, economic, and military influence. Iran has attempted to take advantage of this opportunity by building ties with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and various Afghan political leaders, while at the same time supporting the Taliban insurgency through its Qods Force. Iran has also extended its ideological influence in Afghanistan through channels like the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee. According to the State Department’s 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism, Iran’s Qods Force “has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives” since at least 2006, and “provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons.” The Islamic Republic’s strategy thus far has been to disrupt attempts at creating a stable security environment while exerting its influence in the Afghan political sphere.
Afghan officials have expressed their opposition to nuclear proliferation in the region.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry’s policy toward nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is as follows: “In view of the nature of modern warfare, we regard using most types of weapons of mass destruction as contrary to the international norms. We are seeking a universal disarmament of all nuclear weapons. We fully support an Asia and the Middle-East free of nuclear weapons.”
July 27, 2008: The Non-Aligned Movement, of which Afghanistan is a member, released a statement that “welcomed the continuing cooperation being extended by the Islamic Republic of Iran to the IAEA” and “reaffirmed the basic and inalienable right of all states to develop research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, without any discrimination and in conformity with their respective legal obligations.”
July 13, 2008: Afghan President Hamid Karzai stated, “Afghanistan would never like its soil to be used against another country. Afghanistan would like to remain Iran's good friend as a neighbor as we share a common language and religion. Similarly, Afghanistan wholeheartedly wants to remain a friend, ally, and partner of America because this is in Afghanistan's best interest.”
June 13, 2011: Managing Director of the national Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company Ali Reza Zeiqami and Afghan Minister of Commerce and Industries Anwar-ul-haq Ahadi signed a Memorandum of Understanding permitting Iran to provide 300,000 tons of oil products to Afghanistan over the course of six months.
October 30, 2010: Mohammad Ali Rezaie, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, announced a transit railway linking Iran and Afghanistan would soon be operational: “The transit line which will link Torbat Heidariyeh (in Northeastern Iran) to Herat (in Western Afghanistan) will start operation soon and it is due to be extended to Iran's Southern-most port city of Chabahar (on the rims of the Persian Gulf).”
February 2, 2006: Iranian officials announced their intention to donate an additional $100 million in aid to Afghanistan to aid in reconstruction. In 2002, Iran had donated $570 million in aid to Afghanistan.
June 19, 2011: Iranian Deputy Parliament Speaker Reza Bahonar met with his Afghan counterpart Ahmad Behzad. During their meeting, Bahonar asserted that security in the region would improve if U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan.
April 18, 2011: Twelve Iranian engineers were kidnapped in Afghanistan’s western Farah province. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that the engineers were employed by a construction company in the region.
January 18, 2011: Iranian officials announced that they would permit fuel tanker trucks to enter Afghanistan from Iran. Iran had implemented a blockade on fuel trucks entering Afghanistan in December 2010 after Afghan officials refused to provide information on its domestic gasoline consumption to Tehran.
November 25, 2010: Secretary-General of the Drug Control Headquarters of Iran Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, Minister of Counter Narcotics of Afghanistan Zarar Ahmad Moqbel Osmani and Federal Minister for Narcotics Control of Pakistan approved a tri-lateral cooperative plan to combat drug trafficking in the region. The three states concluded the agreement at the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes annual Triangular Initiative’s meeting.
November 16, 2010: Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani met with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul. During the meeting Larijani stressed that “expansion of ties with Afghanistan in all spheres is one of important priorities of Iran's regional policies.”
October 27, 2010: Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast acknowledged in a news conference that Iran had “helped construction of Afghanistan and the preparation of its economic infrastructure” and would continue to do so in the future. Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted that he had received millions of dollars from the Islamic Republic. “The government of Iran has been assisting us with five or six or seven hundred thousand euros [$700,000 to $975,000] once or twice every year, that is an official aid,” Karzai said. The money is reportedly delivered by Iranian officials to President Karzai’s chief of staff Umar Daudzai.
October 12, 2010: Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary for Foreign Policy and International Security Affairs Ali Baqeri emphasized his country’s eagerness to support Afghanistan. In a meeting with Australia’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan Richard Smith in Tehran, Baqeri stated, “The Islamic Republic of Iran will spare no effort to help the Afghan brothers and sisters and continues to abide by this policy.” Baqeri added that “rapid and full withdrawal of occupying forces” was a key to establishing security in Afghanistan.
July 28, 2011: U.S. Treasury Department officials designated six members of an al Qaeda network based in Iran for sanctions. This network was described as “the core pipeline through which al-Qa’ida moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia.” Among those designated was ‘Ali Hasan ‘Ali al-‘Ajmi, who Treasury officials accused of providing funds to Taliban fighters and “facilitating travel” for al Qaeda insurgents from the Gulf to Afghanistan.
March 15, 2011: Commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) General David H. Petraeus confirmed at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 15 that the rockets shipment seized by ISAF forces in February was directed by Iran's Qods Force. The 48 122mm rockets seized in Afghanistan's western Nimroz province were being transported in a three-truck convoy and would nearly double the range of rockets previously used by insurgents in Afghanistan.
March 10, 2011: British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that a shipment of 48 rockets en route to Taliban forces recovered in Afghanistan’s Nimruz province originated from Iran. Hague stated, “'I am extremely concerned by the latest evidence that Iran continues to supply the Taliban with weaponry,” and added, “[The weapons were] clearly intended to provide the Taliban with the capability to kill Afghan and ISAF soldiers from significant range.”
August 3, 2010: The U.S. Treasury designated several Iranian individuals and organizations for sanctions as a result of their “support for terrorism and terrorist organizations.” IRGC Qods Force General Hossein Musavi was designated for providing “financial and material support to the Taliban.” The Treasury’s press release further elaborated, “In Afghanistan, the IRGC-QF [Qods Force] provides select members of the Taliban with weapons, funding, logistics and training. In Iraq, the Government of Iran trains, equips, and funds Iraqi Shia militant groups.”
August 2010: The U.S. State Department released its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2009.” According to the report, Iran’s Qods Force “has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives” since at least 2006, and “provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons.”
January 22, 2010: General David H. Petraeus said that in April 2008, “…a message was conveyed to me by a very senior Iraqi leader from the head of the Qods Force, Kassim Suleimani, whose message went as follows. He said, ‘General Petraeus, you should know that I, Kassim Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan.’”
May 31, 2010: Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal reiterated charges that Iran is providing support for the Taliban. General McChrystal elaborated, “The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran…. The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan.”
March 23, 2010: U.S. officials revealed that Taliban insurgents were receiving small arms training in Iran. According to a U.S. intelligence official, “For some years, Iran has supplied arms and munitions to the Afghan Taliban. It has also helped conduct at least small-scale weapons training for the Taliban. There's reason to believe that some of this training has occurred in Iran.”