Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged last week that he regularly receives bags of cash from Iran, a disclosure analysts say reinforces the corrupt reputation of the Afghan government.
Despite intense diplomatic efforts to improve governance in Afghanistan, the revelation that President Hamid Karzai repeatedly has received cash payments from Iran is yet another strain on the relationship between his government and the NATO alliance.
Reasoning behind payments
During a sometimes hostile news conference in Kabul, President Karzai said the money is paid because the Iranians want good relations with Afghanistan.
"The cash payments are done by various friendly countries to help the presidential office and to help dispense assistance in various ways to the employees around here, to people outside and this is transparent," the president said.
Mr. Karzai's remarks followed an article in the New York Times newspaper that reported the money has been used to pay Afghan lawmakers, tribal leaders and Taliban commanders to secure their loyalty.
US general's view
The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, recently told VOA's Persian News Network that while Iran is sending cash to the Karzai government, it is directly supporting Taliban militants with weapons, training and money.
"On the one hand it is providing funding to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and on the other hand it is undermining that government's security by continued provision of assistance to those who are creating the security problems for the country," the general said.
How it's done
The bags of cash are carried from Iran to Kabul by Umar Daudzai, President Karzai's chief of staff. Daudzai is a former ambassador to Iran who reportedly consistently advocates an anti-Western message to Mr. Karzai.
Former USA Today reporter Susan Bennett, who provides analysis to VOA's Issues in the News program, says Daudzai is known for living an expensive lifestyle.
"The recipient, the chief of staff, has multiple homes overseas," Bennett noted. "He is reported to have been, I guess he gets a percentage of the take as we say in the United States, but it has been called walking around money or a slush fund and Karzai was unapologetic."
The cash given to Mr. Daudzai indicates how much the Iranian government has infiltrated the Karzai inner circle, despite President Karzai's alliance with the United States and other NATO countries. The allies have supported the Karzai government with billions of dollars worth of military forces and economic development since the Taliban were driven out of power in 2001.
Quest for influence
French news agency correspondent and analyst Oliver Knox says while it is no surprise that Iran wants to influence its neighbors, handing bags of cash to Mr. Karzai sends a negative message to his constituents.
"What is significant here I think is the perception," Knox said. "I think it is more a problem internally in Afghanistan for Karzai. His government has the reputation of being incredibly corrupt. It is hard to imagine that this would do anything but reinforce that to the 'N'th degree [maximum amount]. Obviously the United States wants to limit Iran's influence in Afghanistan so it is significant in that way."
General Petraeus says despite the financial assistance Tehran is sending the Taliban, Iran also wants Afghanistan to gain the ability to be able to govern itself and take charge of the nation's security.
Petraeus says neither Iran nor the U.S. wants Afghanistan to again come under Taliban control when the country was a haven for extremist groups like al-Qaida.
"Iran has always had a conflicted approach, I think, towards Afghanistan," he said. "On the one hand it really does not want to see the Taliban come back. The Taliban is, after all, a Sunni ultra-conservative extremist movement, organization. Iran is obviously a Shia-led country, so in that sense it does not want to see the Taliban come back."
Iran has confirmed it sends money to the Afghan government, saying the funds are designed to help with Afghanistan's reconstruction.
General Petraeus says Iran's assistance to the Taliban overrides the common interests Iran and America share in Afghanistan. Petraeus says the interests include a commitment to wipe out Afghanistan's illegal narcotics industry, because of what he calls Iran's huge problems with drug addiction.