A senior U.N. official says he has seen no concrete evidence to back up published reports that say Iran is meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan. The official also repeated calls for a larger international security force to be sent to Afghanistan to help create stability in the country.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul, the U.N.'s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell said reports that Iran is meddling in Afghan affairs by arming certain factions in the country are nothing more than rumors and allegations.
Mr. Vendrell has just returned from a visit to several areas of Afghanistan, including the western city of Herat. He said he spoke about the issue with Herat governor, Ismail Khan.
"Ismail Kahn told me, he strongly denied allegations that Iran was playing any unwanted role in Afghanistan and Herat... I have to say in my discussions with a lot of senior Afghans, I have got the feeling that this issue of Iranian interference has been perhaps exaggerated," he said.
The United States has warned Iran against meddling in Afghanistan and has voiced concerns that al-Qaida terrorists may be trying to flee from Afghanistan across the border into Iran.
Mr. Vendrell also spoke at length about the security situation in Afghanistan. "There is a feeling of uncertainty in many parts of Afghanistan. The situation is fragile," he said. "Everybody I talked to, whether they are ordinary Afghans or among the leadership. They all feel that the deployment of the international force beyond Kabul would be tremendously reassuring to the people."
Mr. Vendrell said the presence of such a force would go a long way toward establishing a climate of "neutrality," especially important as Afghans prepare for a Grand Council, or Loya Jerga, to determine the future government of the country.
Mr. Vendrell said the U.N. Security Council should consider sending a much larger force to Afghanistan. He has previously said a contingent of around 30,000 troops might be needed. There are currently some 5,000 international troops stationed in and around Kabul.
The U.N. official said it is in the interests of the Afghans and the international community to ensure a stable Afghanistan that does not again become a haven for extremists and terrorists.
"Even if we forget for a moment the well-being of the Afghans and think simply in terms of the collective interest of pursuing al-Qaida and ensuring that neither al-Qaida nor the Taleban come back to the scene in Afghanistan, we need to establish a civil society in Afghanistan," he said. "We need to establish representative institutions. We need to establish a society based on the rule of law, not on the rule of the gun."
Mr. Vendrell's comments come on the eve of a visit to Afghanistan by U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Annan, who is due to hold talks in Kabul Friday with Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's interim government.