News / Asia

    Afghans Worry About Iran's Growing Influence

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad upon his arrival in Kabul, March 10, 2010.
    Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad upon his arrival in Kabul, March 10, 2010.
    As the United States negotiates the scope of its presence in Afghanistan after combat forces leave in 2014, Afghan former officials and analysts are getting concerned that neighboring Iran is also seeking to shape Afghanistan's future.

    In the eyes of Ahmad Saeedi, a political analyst and former diplomat, Tehran’s influence is becoming pronounced.

    Housing and classrooms for the Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah in Kabul spread across several blocks. The center is said to teach a curriculum similar to that taught in Iran. (S. Behn/VOA)Housing and classrooms for the Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah in Kabul spread across several blocks. The center is said to teach a curriculum similar to that taught in Iran. (S. Behn/VOA)
    x
    Housing and classrooms for the Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah in Kabul spread across several blocks. The center is said to teach a curriculum similar to that taught in Iran. (S. Behn/VOA)
    Housing and classrooms for the Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah in Kabul spread across several blocks. The center is said to teach a curriculum similar to that taught in Iran. (S. Behn/VOA)
    "Afghanistan is under the siege of Iranian influence. Nowadays we have six pro-Iranian TV channels, 21 radio stations, and a large number of publications that appear in Kabul that are pro-Iranian," he says, adding, "The cultural war is more important than war led by guns."

    Countering Western influence

    Khalid Mafton, a U.S. educated political analyst living in Kabul, says Iran's strategy is aimed at both bolstering its support among Afghanistan's minority Shi'ites and countering U.S. and Western influence in Afghanistan.

    He says that Iran's long term agenda "is to have some people who support the Iranian regime and culture in the society, and in the short and medium term is to somehow hurt the American military forces in Afghanistan."

    This warning has particular resonance for Washington given its experience in Iraq, where pro-Iranian Shi'ites came to power following the U.S. military intervention.

    Regional ambitions

    A sign for the Kabul campus of Iran's Islamic Azad University, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9, 2012. (S. Behn/VOA)A sign for the Kabul campus of Iran's Islamic Azad University, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9, 2012. (S. Behn/VOA)
    x
    A sign for the Kabul campus of Iran's Islamic Azad University, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9, 2012. (S. Behn/VOA)
    A sign for the Kabul campus of Iran's Islamic Azad University, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9, 2012. (S. Behn/VOA)
    In some ways, the relationship between Afghanistan and Iran is natural. More than a million Afghans sought refuge from the war in Afghanistan in Iran, and they are now drifting back after living there for years. And, some are bringing Iranian culture and religious beliefs with them.

    Afghanistan also shares a long border with Iran and is heavily reliant on it for fuel imports, which either transit Iran or come directly over the border. And the two countries have a fair amount of trade, with Iranian exports to Afghanistan totaling some $2 billion a year.

    But Davood Moradian, former chief adviser to President Hamid Karzai's foreign minister, says there are three facets to Iran's objectives in Afghanistan. There is the Iran "which has legitimate interests, Iran which has an ideological preference, and Iran which has regional ambition. And two of the three are causing problems in Afghanistan."

    Analysts also believe that Iran's intelligence services - as well as Pakistan's intelligence services - are active in Afghanistan. Jawed Kohistani, a former Afghan military officer and intelligence official, says the security pact currently under negotiation between Kabul and Washington should address relations with Iran, as well as with Pakistan.

    The religious factor

    The Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9,2012. (S. Behn/VOA)The Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9,2012. (S. Behn/VOA)
    x
    The Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9,2012. (S. Behn/VOA)
    The Khatam al Nabeyeen Mosque and madrassah, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 9,2012. (S. Behn/VOA)
    There are also concerns that Iran's ideological ambitions will create friction between Afghanistan's majority Sunni and minority Shia, and has sparked a tussle for influence from Iran's ideological rival, Saudi Arabia.

    In western Kabul, one physical example of Iran’s influence is the Khatam al-Nabeyeen Islamic University. The complex, which also includes a madrassah and student housing, is funded with the help of Iran and teaches Iran's version of Islam.

    Saudi Arabia is reportedly ready to fund the building of a large $100 million mosque and school complex in Kabul, where the Saudi brand of Sunni Islam will be offered to thousands of students and followers.

    Saudi Arabia's Wahabbi version of Islam is the one adopted by al Qaida's Osama bin Laden and the conservative Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan and gave safe haven to al-Qaida until the 2001 U.S. invasion. Saudi Arabia has rejected all ties with the Taliban.

    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora