Afghanistan: It's what's for dinner. (side dishes include Iran and Pakistan)
As the US inches closer to the 2014 pull out deadline, some serious questions are being asked about the continuing role America will have in the region. The only thing we know for sure is that there will be some kind of commitment to finding and ‘neutralizing’ terrorists. But aside from that vague commitment, it seems everything else is on the table for discussion, modification or reevaluation.
Seemingly absent from this conversation at the highest levels is reexamining the United States’ relationship with Pakistan. While it’s no secret that Afghanistan will struggle mightily with development without the help of regional partners, the US’s selection of Pakistan as the primary partner is baffling.
Pakistan made clear it’s goals with regards to Afghanistan 1. Keep India out, 2. Placate Pashtun’s in Pakistan by giving them a state in Afghanistan, and 3. Using it as a proving/training ground for ‘irregular forces’ ultimately destined for Kashmir.
See anything about the future political or economic stability for Afghanistan in there? Yeah, me neither.
It’s no secret that Pakistan is the main supporter of the Taliban (Understatement of the century). Remind me again who the people are perpetrating acts of terror inside Afghanistan? Right, the very same Taliban. What was the US’s agenda in Afghanistan post 2014? Fight terrorism.
So, the US wants to fight terrorism, but gives support to and cooperates with Pakistan, who funds, equips and gives safe haven to the Taliban who are perpetrating acts of terror. Doctor, my head.
Of course, this isn’t news. It’s nothing that hasnt been said before by the Afghan Twitterati, the academics, etc.
However, US policy makers throw their hands up and say: “Who ELSE are we going to work with?”
The answer? Iran.
Let it sink in for a moment.
Now, let’s break down the possibilities of Iran, US cooperation in Afghanistan. First, it’s not new. Following the US Invasion of 2001, Iran generously offered the US help in it’s military campaign. Going so far as to unfurl a map in the UN’s 6+2 group on Afghanistan and point to the Taliban positions the US needed to bomb in order to give the Northern Alliance victory. Iran also has a long history of fighting against the Taliban. Throughout the 90s Iran funded the Northern Alliance (working WITH India as opposed to against it), and had a strong anti-Taliban stance (They were a hair’s breadth away from invading Afghanistan in 1998 after the Taliban executed some Iranian diplomats). So, what happened to the US-Iran love? That whole Axis of Evil thing didnt really sit well in Tehran. So they pulled the plug on the help.
Now, I’m sure the skeptics are saying whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s Iran’s agenda in this whole mix? Isn’t this the great exporter of terrorism and the US’s main foil in the region? Well, in a word: yes. But haven’t you ever heard of those ideas just crazy enough to work?
First, Iran has no interest in a weak Afghanistan. A huge portion of the opium grown in Afghanistan ends up in Iran, and a huge portion of Afghan refugees (especially non-Pashtuns) also end up in Iran. A stronger Afghan government that can provide basic services and security to it’s citizens while maintaining it’s borders helps Iran immensely. Also, Afghanistan has long been a market for Iranian goods, it doesnt take an economist to figure out that stability=stronger economy=buying more stuff. And with sanctions coming down hard and fast on Iran, it needs all the markets it can get.
Speaking of sanctions, some good faith cooperation on Afghanistan would help break the ice on other major issues dividing Iran and the United States. It might also force the two sides closer together, as there would surely need to be some kind of diplomatic mission based in Iran to coordinate any combined or cooperative ventures.
And there is little fear of Iran suddenly colluding with the Taliban since both the Taliban and Tehran view the other as anathema. Iran also has shown more willingness to cooperate with the other major players in the region including the CARs, Russia, China and India than has Pakistan.
Iran is that girl the US let get away. The relationship was steamy, but short. But you opted for the ‘safe’ choice. The girl you saw yourself settling down with (that’s Pakistan), but as soon as you settled down, she unleashed a whole bunch of crazy. Now you’re back on the market, and you notice Iran is single…Do you swallow pride, pick up the phone and admit you were wrong?
My advice: It’s never too late for that belated promise ring.