News / Asia

Three Questions: Karzai Accepting Iranian Cash

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (r) meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (r) meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged Monday that his office receives large cash payments in "bags of money" from Iran.

President Karzai told reporters in Kabul that the cash, up to $975,000 twice a year, is used for government expenses.  Karzai said the transactions were not secret and no different from cash payments from the United States and other "friendly countries."

VOA's Ira Mellman spoke with Daniel Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington.

Markey told Mellman he was not surprised by the admission by the Afghan President was getting money from Iran, but was surprised that it was in the form of bags of cash.

What do you think the payments mean?

It means that Iran enjoys a significant amount of influence in Kabul in a variety of ways, and it has actually been pretty effective as regional powers go in projecting its influence in Afghanistan.  Unlike Pakistan, Iran tends to use less direct support for violence and more on bribery and buying people off. What ultimately comes out of this, though is that it certainly upsets US officials to see that Karzai, someone with whom we had hoped to have had a close working relationship, is very clearly working closely with the Iranians and, in many cases, his outbursts against  Washington have been influenced by that fact.

In addition to that, are there any significant indications of Tehran’s influence in Kabul?

I guess that Iran has sufficiently inoculated itself from Afghan criticism. You don’t hear a lot of complaining about Iran in Afghanistan that could be partially because the skids have been greased by Iranian cash. Iran has funded educational institutions. A lot of Afghans are being educated in Iranian universities and things like that. So, that’s also another implication. I think that you can’t really chalk up Karzai’s concerns about partnerships with the United States to the Iranian influence, but it probably hasn’t helped, and there may be a variety of other ways where Iranian funds have found their ways into the Afghan government and probably driven wedges within individuals and personalities within that government, but this is pretty murky territory, it’s hard to know exactly how.

Is it significant that the U.S. is surprised by Iran giving bagloads of cash to Karzai and other members of his government?

I think it’s significant that Americans are surprised. Karzai himself said that he had told President Bush about the fact that he was receiving bagloads of money from Iran, so I don’t know that the US government is all that surprised. Certainly, I think the US intelligence community has been aware of that influence, but they haven’t wanted to see it come out, certainly this way. It’s clearly detrimental; it’s a bad image to hold. Even if Karzai says this is a transparent flow of cash that sounds pretty ridiculous on its face, so it just further undermines the US efforts to build a decent working relationship with the Karzai government, which is currently their preferred strategy. So it’s detrimental primarily for the symbolism, for the way it came out, the fact that it once again comes with an explosion of Karzai anger against the United States. He clearly seems to be kind of a frustrated and easily rattled individual which is not the kind of thing the US wants to see.

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