Tehran offers aid and influence to Afghanistan

“LET’S not make an issue of it,” said President Karzai as he acknowledged that he and other members of his inner circle have been receiving millions of dollars in cash payments from Iran.

That is quite a request.

On the one hand Iran delivers what one senior source describes as “suitcases of cash” to the Afghan President’s office in exchange for pushing Iranian interests in Afghanistan.

On the other Western governments and Afghanistan’s intelligence service report that members of the Iranian Republican Guard’s al-Quds force deliver mines and weaponry to Taliban fighters who use them to kill British, American and Afghan soldiers.

The payments that his office has received from Iran have been known to Western governments for several years.

So the timing of the revelation may reflect American concern over the increasingly cosy relationship between Mr Karzai and President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who visited Kabul this month.

Afghanistan has an entwined history with its western neighbour that includes a shared language, religious ties to the Afghan Shia minority and what Tehran sees as an Iranian sphere of influence in the west of that country.

Since 2001 Iran has given $US350million of aid, including the financing of road projects to connect Central Asia to the Iranian port of Chabahar across Afghanistan.

At the same time Tehran has, since 2007, been maintaining a calibrated supply of arms to the Taleban.

Iran does not want a return of the hardline Sunni Taliban government; indeed, Iran nearly went to war with the Taliban in 1998 after nine Iranian diplomats were murdered by Taliban fighters.

The supply of weapons to the Taliban has two apparent aims. One is to force Iran’s interests into any political settlement to end the war.

The other is to maintain some leverage over the US.

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