On August 5-7, the beleagured President of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai, came to visit Mr. Bush II in the United States.  I do hope Mr. Karzai was able to get a little recreation in, and enjoy the Camp David scenery.  Most of the time, however, it sounds as if there was a program of work throughout in discussing the relationship of Afghanistan with its neighbors.

It seems that Mr. Karzai and Mr. Bush differ strongly on which of two neighbor state is the problem and which neighbor state is the solution: Iran and Pakistan.   

Iran
In the U.S., we are calling the Iran difference of opinion the Major disagreement: Mr. Karzai insists that Iran is helping Afghanistan, while Mr. Bush insists they are sending weapons into the Taliban insurgency. 

Iran’s aid to Afghanistan has been consistent and major.  In 2002, Iran pledged USD 570 million to Afghanistan over the years 2002-2006; furthermore, past the pledge, they actually paid.  In 2006, they pledged another USD 100 million.  Examples of other aid besides cash aid include utility infrastructure and enterprise development in Herat. 

On June 27, 2007, the presence of significant numbers of Iranian arms in Afghanistan was confirmed by U.S., NATO, and Afghanistani officials.  However, according to Ron Synovitz at RFE/RL, it was unconfirmed that the Iranian government had anything to do with their presence within the state.  U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates seems to be looking at a larger set of possibilities, at least: though he thinks Iran “may be playing on all sides of the conflict” he also acknowledges that corruption and narcotrafficking may well be to blame for the presence of Iranian arms.  In April, when one shipment was intercepted, General Pace said the same.

Some of what has been found in Afghanistan include mortars, and weapons of increasing capability against personnel and aircraft.  There is a significant chance that Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (aka MANPADS, a very effective land to air missile device) have entered into Afghanistan.  But though the influx of weapons becomes more frequent and of higher capability, it still does not address their source.  Is Iran’s Quds force,  allegedly the source for these weapons, sending these weapons on orders from up high?  Or is there a subterranean illegal arms trade that has links to Quds officials and their suppliers?

It seems unlikely that all the weapons trade takes place beyond official Iran’s knowledge.  In Iraq, the ICG wrote in their April Report on Basra, that Iran was certainly trading in arms for oil, and “backing all comers”.  Since both states are occupied by non-regional forces of similar governments, (okay, the U.S.) it could certainly be part of Iran’s general policy.  But overall, it won’t be good for Iran either, especially Afghanistan side: because Afghanistan has its own weapons traffic–non-traditional, to be sure.

Opium
One 2005 article in the Washington Post cited the new UN World Drug Report.   Iran has the highest opium addiction rate in the world: 2.8 percent.  That’s 4 million users of an illegal substance in a country of 70 million inhabitants.  This is an illegal trade with 4 million ready customers.  Furthermore, there are few substitution products on the market.  After the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran, the relief agencies that delivered aid also included a good supply of methadone, in order to medically stabilize Iranians who would have been cut off from their opiate intake.  Going further back, BBC in 2000 reported Iranian addiction rates as endemic, and noting that 3200 Iranian law enforcement officers died in 2001 trying to enforce drug interdiction.  The total amount of drugs intercepted was only estimated at 30%.

All in all, such a customer base would allow many opportunities to turn a profit and corrupt government, military, police, and supply chain officials to divert weapons to an illegal counter-trade for narcotics.  And it seems, from the facts above, that Eastern Iran could be viewed as a failing territory of the state.  State failure means that Iran’s government is not any more in control of its Afghanistan border than Pakistan is with its Northwest frontier.  Iran’s mass-deportations of Afghanistan refugees this past April seem to indicate a porous border and also a situation which Iran can barely control. 

Ambivalent Iranian policy:
The Taliban in their previous incarnation was no friend to the Iranian government.  In August 1998, Iranian diplomats to Afghanistan were killed in Mazar e-Sharif; the prior and resulting acrimony from that incident nearly pushed Iran and Talibani Afghanistan into war.  Furthermore, the Taliban was blamed for massacres of Shi’ites in Aghanistan’s territory.  A revival of Taliban insurgency within Afghanistan would not be in Iran’s best interest.  Nevertheless, the U.S. and Iran have been able to gain rapprochement since the 1979 change in government (also marked by hostilities toward diplomatic and consular staff).  It’s sure that Iran does not see U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan (or Iraq) as within their security interest: they’re surrounded.  And now, with nuclear enrichment and proliferation issues, U.S. – Iranian relations have plummeted from abysmal to nearly irretrievable.

Therefore, Iran’s conflicting set of policies has made it  perhaps unlikely that they will give the attention to its failing Afghanistan-contiguous areas of governance that make funding and supplying an insurgency possible.  Whether this is an active policy, sponsored by the Quds force, or a passive policy that exists through inattention, it gives terrible prospects to maintaining security in Afghanistan.  Mr. Bush is correct at least in part to hold Iran’s government to blame: either they have a policy, or they are failing to exercise leadership in stemming narcotrafficking and weapons trafficking.  But there is no doubt that stopping such a traffic would require manpower, and create numerous casualties among Iran’s domestic security forces.  As bad as narcotrafficking was in 2001, it is worse today: more product to move, and a more entrenched organization.

Furthermore, under Iran’s security constraints,  could also be a desire to hold those forces on the Iraq side of the country, another embattled border, that also creates constraint.

Meanwhile, back at Camp David: Pakistan.
The second area of disagreement at Camp David which the U.S. is calling the “Minor Disagreement”: Mr. Karzai is not so sure that Pakistan has been a good ally in the war against terror, and Mr. Bush is still pinning his hopes on Mr. Musharraf.  

At least in public, these two disagreements are not publicly acrimonious.  According to the Cincinnati Post, Mr. Bush said that Mr. Karzai “would know his country best”, and Mr. Karzai went home, to know it even better–only this time, with jet lag. 

The Peace Jirga:
Over the next week, a conference took place between community leaders of the two states: The Pakistan-Afghanistan Peace Jirga, which ended today.  Since it was conducted between tribal leaders, it suggested a more neighborly, or as the Boston Globe put it, “supple” policy of rapprochement.  This would be in contrast to the hard-line approach toward the Taliban already being exercised.  Underlying this initiative is a belief that not all members of the Taliban are determined to over-run the country, they just want the U.S. and NATO out.

The meeting convened on August 9th with 600-700 delegates, largely as a goodwill mission that would attempt to bring Taleban negotiators to the table with Afghanistan’s official government.  At first, Pakistan’s President Musharraf had declined to attend.  Nevertheless, his appearance became one of the most important features of the conference: he publicly admitted that the Taliban have been using Pakistan as a jumping off point.  The meeting ended with a resolution that no tribal leaders would harbor al-Qaeda members on either side of the border.  There will be a follow-up meeting, date uncertain, set up by committee.  According to a really good editorial in the Boston Globe, the results may prove to be lasting:

Left unsaid was the Pakistani belief that the Pashtun have been deprived of their proper share of power in Afghanistan ever since the Americans routed the Taliban in late 2001, with the help of the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, which had been backed previously by India, Iran, and Russia.
For such a strategy to work, Musharraf will have to do his part. This does not mean halting all cross-border infiltration – an impossible task – but dismantling the Taliban’s command structure. This is something Pakistan’s military intelligence is capable of doing. Toward that end, Pakistan must be assured that a post-Taliban Afghanistan will not become a repository of Indian influence, will not deprive the Pashtun of their fair share of power, and will recognize the current border between the two countries.
And it would help if America and its allies generously financed reconstruction projects through the Karzai government and ceased air attacks that kill civilians.

At any rate, Afghanistan has the power to destabilize both Iran and Pakistan–and vice versa.  It is Lacks of State Power , i.e., state incapacity, that cause the most damage and strain between these neighbors. 

This week’s developments:
Mr. Ahmadinejad is visiting Kabul this week on his way to Ashgabat and Bishkek. Talk is good: especially in an environment where political will is required to stem the tide of regional, provincial, and state failure.

Further Reading:
Transcript of Press Conference with Presidents Karzai and Bush here;
U.S. Department of State on MANPADS threat reduction efforts, with definitions;
Jamestown Foundation on Iranian influence in Afghanistan, January 2007 , should present the worst-case scenario.

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