Ties of Afghan Unity Government with neighboring Iran

Alwaght- Afghanistan has moved through a long way of challenges to form its national unity government. Finally a mechanism was introduced, appointing Ashraf Ghani as the president of the country, as Abdullah Abdullah was set to serve as the chief executive of Afghanistan’s national unity cabinet. The question that presents itself is that how have been the ties of the Afghan unity government with the neighboring Iran since the beginning until now?

Unity government’s vision of Iran

The foreign policy of the Ghani-led Afghanistan’s national unity government is well different from foreign policy during the time the country was under the administration of former President Hamid Karzai.

Kabul’s foreign policy is now multi-dimensional, covering the relations with the neighbors, the Muslim world, Europe, the US, Japan, Australia, the Asian countries and the international organizations. As part of current policy, the Afghan government has brought under focus a set of aims which include expansion of direct relations with the neighboring Pakistan, boosting connection with the Muslim countries and tightening bonds with the global wealth, power and science hubs.

Meanwhile, observing closely the approaches of the Afghan unity government on Iran, we could see that upon rising to power President Ghani has said that Afghanistan would base its foreign policy on cooperation and interaction with the regional countries and the Afghan government, while fixing its newly-designed foreign policy, has set high on the agenda wide-ranging collaboration with the region’s states. But Ghani has not followed his predecessor’s foreign policy. The president signed the security pact with Washington, and within a short span he has made three visits to Saudi Arabia, as he, in a controversial move, has voiced support for the Saudi Arabian aggression against Yemen.

On the other side, although Ashraf Ghani has favored the US-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia triangle over Iran in security matters, the national unity government was not comprised only of Ghani’s loyalists. This meant that the unity government has not put all eggs in one basket.

Meanwhile, in the shadow of recent developments including Iran’s improving ties with the West after solving the Iranian nuclear program crisis and thus lifting Western Sanctions on Tehran and return of Iran to the global economy, Kabul has paid a special attention to Iran while Tehran is moving through the post-sanctions stage. Afghanistan has tried to be too cautious in arranging its ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, two tough rivals, so that it could avoid ruffling each one of them. It also struggled to cover up Iran’s existing challenges with rivals in Afghanistan.

Additionally, Kabul was watchful to make sure that Tehran’s challenges with Washington or Riyadh left no negative impacts on Afghanistan. This is coming while Afghanistan’s need for international fundings and military supports beside Kabul’s efforts to restore security to the country and the necessity of foreign investments through economic cooperation have pushed the unity government to take steps towards enhancement of ties with Tehran. Looking at the mutual diplomatic visits within the past one and half a year, we can say that regardless of the Iranian officials’ trips to Afghanistan, the visits of the Afghan president and the chief executive of the country to Tehran are of significance.

The two countries’ fields of security and diplomatic cooperation

Tehran has not had a positive view on the US-Afghanistan security pact and it has asserted that the regional security should be provided by the neighbors’ cooperation. However, due to NATO and the West’s scaling down military presence in Afghanistan and the country’s security challenges such issues as drugs smuggling, water crisis, Afghan refugees, terrorism and the emergence of ISIS terror group find a critical importance in the two nations’ relations. ISIS’ growing presence in Afghanistan has made security cooperation unavoidable between Tehran and Kabul. From another dimension, Iran has a great experience in fighting drugs smuggling. Furthermore, Iran has witnessed a variety of political and security repercussions as it shared 950 kilometers of borders with Afghanistan. This issue has driven the two sides to engage in a bilateral cooperation.

Though a set of issues, including discord over presence of foreign powers and challenges over sharing of waters of border rivers especially the Helmand and Hari Rivers, existed between the two countries, the strategic requirements have pushed the two countries into partnership, making the national unity government of Afghanistan more than ever go after the regional convergence. Moreover, Iran is a destination of largest number of the Afghan refugees. Within past year, the two countries authorities travelled to each other’s countries, preparing the ground for finding settlement for the Afghan refugees’ issue as security and economic challenges keep in place in Afghanistan. Tehran has paid a special attention to solution of the Afghan refugees’ issue, as well as to some Kabul’s demands.

In the field of foreign policy, Kabul has tried to take into consideration the changed view of the UN and Western countries towards Iran. Understanding Iran’s security and geopolitical considerations, Kabul has weathered the Saudi Arabian pressures for Kabul’s participation in the political and military coalitions. Shifting priority from security to economy, the national unity government to some degree has paid attention to relations with Iran and the member states of Shanghai Cooperation Organization while it is having ties with the West.

Iran-Afghanistan economic field of cooperation

Although Iran is one of the countries that supply Afghanistan with the largest amount of products, the two countries’ use of the economic capacities does not correspond the size of their commonalities. Therefore, both sides want to prioritize the economic cooperation enhancement as their main objective. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s joining the World Trade Organization, easing restrictions on visa for the two countries’ businessmen, Iran’s considerable exports to Afghanistan, Kabul’s effort to connect to the global markets through Iran’s Port of Chabahar, Iran, India and Afghanistan cooperation in Port of Chabahar and Afghanistan willingness to cut dependence on Pakistan transit routes have triggered Tehran and Kabul to focus further on revival and expansion of the economic opportunities and capabilities of the two countries.

By Alwaght