Development of Iran - Afghanistan Ties Awaiting Serious Bilateral Investment

Friday, September 9, 2016

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Political Analyst & Expert on Indian Subcontinent

In a futuristic approach, it seems that promotion of relations between Iran and Afghanistan to a level higher than their current level needs serious investment in all political, economic, cultural, security and military fields, because Afghanistan needs foreign assistance in all these sectors and heavily depends on that assistance. Afghanistan’s needs, in order of priority, are as follows:

A) Military and security

1. Weapons needs

2. Training of Afghan forces

Afghanistan is currently facing problems for training of its armed forces in order to counter security challenges posed by the Taliban, Daesh and al-Qaeda. Despite their obligations toward Afghanistan, neither the United States, nor the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have so far supplied the country’s army and national police with adequate amounts of advanced weapons, nor have they provided Afghan forces with professional training so as to be able to fight against their highly-motivated jihadist and terrorist adversaries in a serious way to deter their attacks. Afghanistan’s military and security needs cover a wide range and the country has recently received some assistance from India and Russia. Iran can also contact Afghan officials and meet, at least, part of their need for weapons and training in a calculated manner.

B) Economic

Afghanistan’s economy has been almost totally devastated in long wars and needs overall restructuring. It seems that the Islamic Republic of Iran can help Afghanistan in the following economic sectors:

1. Industrial sector: Iran can invest in Afghanistan’s small-sized and medium-sized labor-intensive industries, which can become operational in a short period of time and recruit workforce from all regions of the country. Of importance in this sector is to provide the workforce with necessary training and transfer Iran's experiences in this regard to Afghanistan;

2. Agriculture sector: Examples of cooperation in this sector include encouraging cultivation of products, which can substitute opium cultivation and production of narcotics, as well as purposive investment in this field with the participation of the two countries’ state-run and private sectors;

3. Water and electricity management: The issue of water and electricity supply is among serious and sensitive issues. Iran has so far taken limited steps in this regard in the western Afghan city of Herat, but this issue is more important than this. Iran has good experience in the field of building dams. Afghans believe that it is their natural right to take advantage of the water in those rivers, which originate from Afghanistan’s mountains. Their reluctance to implement a deal with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s water right in relation to the Hamoon Lake, for which Afghans have given various reasons, is a result of this mentality. This mentality can be only modified by cooperating in dam construction to rein in surface water in Afghanistan, provided that the Afghan side would accept to sign a contract in which border waters would be fairly divided between the two countries. Investment in this regard and transfer of Iran's dam construction experience to Afghanistan in a purposive manner will be in line with the strategic interests of Iran. Mutual understanding of the two countries’ water needs and finding joint practical ways to meet them will be an inevitable necessity in the future.


Negotiations and trilateral investment among Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan to contain surplus water in Tajikistan and transfer it to Afghanistan and Iran seem to be practical in the future. Tajikistan has good water resources, but it is not currently able to contain them on its own.

Afghanistan is also a good market for selling electricity produced in Iran and if joint projects are laid out, in view of Iran's energy advantages such as abundant oil and gas reserves, any investment in this regard will bear fruit in the shortest possible time.

C) Political

Due to long domestic and foreign wars in the past four decades, the Afghan society is facing problems with its political structure and with regard to effective enforcement of the national power. The central government is weak and fragile as a result of which the power has been divided and distributed in various parts of the country. These conditions have turned Afghanistan into a failed state on the verge of national disintegration where the risk of the country’s division along ethnic lines cannot be totally ruled out. This issue, however, has gone largely unnoticed, even in Iran. Since Afghanistan’s national security is somehow related to Iran's national security, the following proposals are offered in this regard:

1. Iran's sectarian approach to Afghanistan, which has been so far focused on Persian speaking people and the Hazara Shia people and almost totally ignores the Pashtun ethnic group, must change and the Pashtun ethnic element must be taken into account as a reality. In the absence of Iran, Pakistan has made Afghanistan’s Pashtun people dependent on itself, despite all past hostilities and conflicts between the two sides. This comes at a time that in terms of history, religion, culture and even Persian language, compared with some other tribes, the Pashtun tribe feels closer to Iran than Pakistan, which is a newly established country. Afghans also believe that Pakistan has occupied three regions, that is, Pakistan’s Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces as well as tribal regions, which Afghans believe belong to their country in historical terms.

2. In reality, most people in Afghanistan follow Sunni Islam as well as the Dewbandi school of the Indian subcontinent or are inclined toward the Middle East-based Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafi-Wahhabi school does not sway that much influence in Afghanistan as some people in Iran believe, though Saudi Arabia is doing its best to promote Salafi-Wahhabi school in Afghanistan. The most objective example is an investment of USD 100 million in the establishment of the Islamic university of Kabul, whose contract was signed under the former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and its implementation still continues. The university is supposed to accommodate 10,000 students. Iran's sectarian approach in the field of religion will help Saudi Arabia to win this rivalry and a serious solution should be found for this problem.

D) Cultural

There is no doubt that Afghanistan is part of the cultural domain of Iran and no country like Iran has such a cultural privilege in Afghanistan. The Persian language, which is common between the two nations, has provided a good ground for cultural cooperation in all aspects, including education, printing books, radio, TV, movies, and so forth. However, despite such good conditions, collaboration between the two countries is still limited at a time that India is expanding its cultural influence in Afghanistan. Iran can organize its cultural cooperation with Afghanistan in the following fields:

1. Admitting more Afghan students to Iranian universities in addition to Afghan refugees, who already live in the country;

2. Helping Afghanistan print its school textbooks, which are currently being printed in Germany;

3. Investment in Afghanistan’s schools and cultural institutes is also a good option, because the Kabul branch of Iran’s Islamic Azad University has been warmly welcomed and this experience can be repeated in other provinces of Afghanistan;

4. Serious follow-up on the mothballed plan to establish a joint television network among Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan can put cultural relations among the three countries on the right track and will be beneficial to promotion of Persian language in the long run by creating a Persian standard language.

Key WordsIran, Afghanistan, Ties, Bilateral Investment, Development, Futuristic Approach, Political, Economic, Cultural, Security, Military Fields, Taliban, Daesh, Al-Qaeda, US, NATO, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Water Right, Hamoon Lake, Hazara, Shia, Sunni, Pashtun Ethnic Group, Afghan Refugees, Mollazehi

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