Iran nuclear deal crisis
US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal might lead to Tehran retaliating, making it difficult for Afghanistan to stabilise in the face of several security and economic issues
The nuclear deal which was concluded almost after 20 months of negotiations between Iran and P5 1 was annulled on May 8, 2018, after US president Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US from the Iran nuclear deal.
Both countries declared their strong positions on the issue. President Trump stated that the US will undertake any measures, including imposing more sanctions and even military action if needed, to prevent Iran from nuclear enrichment.
On the contrary, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “If Iran and other countries in the agreement cannot agree on a way forward, Iran might start enriching uranium at uncapped levels.”
Now under this circumstance, US withdrawal from the deal can risk the peacemaking efforts of Afghanistan and the US against terrorism and state-building in the country. This piece evaluates the potential role that Iran can play in Afghanistan and the possible implication of the US policy towards Iran for Afghanistan.
Considering the fragility of situations in Afghanistan and the influence of Iran in these countries as a close neighbour, Afghanistan is the only place that can be easily turned into a battle field between Iran and the US.
Realistically, Iran has a huge sphere of influence in Afghanistan, ranging from security and economics, to refugees and regional politics.
Iran has established deep links with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was in 2016 that ties between Iran and Taliban became public when a vehicle was struck by a US drone transporting Taliban chief Mullah Mansour from Iran to the Baluchistan area of Pakistan.
Iran has been a great supporter of the Shiite militant groups in Afghanistan for the last couple of decades.
More recently it has been unveiled that Afghan refugees are recruited and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to fight in Syria under the title of Fatemiyoun. There are possibilities that Fatemiyoun’s focus could be turned to Afghanistan and lead to the establishment of their sanctuaries in the country after ending the war in Syria.
Moreover, in the economic sphere, the Chabahar port in Iran became a lucrative alternative for the Afghanistan imports and exports. Expanding trade, attracting investment, creating job opportunities and, seizing connectivity are the expectations that Afghanistan bears in mind from Chabahar and Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI) projects.
Today, almost three million Afghan refugees are in Iran, making this country home to the world’s fourth largest refugee population. The Afghan refugees in Iran will be another potential source of Iranian influence in Afghanistan.
Iran often utilises Afghan refugees as an instrument to put pressure on Afghanistan’s Government.
Now Afghanistan is more unstable that it has been in years and its economy continues to stagnate, so the repatriation of refugees would increase the challenges before for the government of Afghanistan and its supporting countries for providing appropriate shelters and services to the repatriates.
Since its formation, the National Unity Government of Afghanistan has compiled its efforts to create a regional consensus towards fighting terrorism and maintaining peace in Afghanistan and the region.
Such efforts are perceivable in President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s speeches during their foreign visits since 2016.
Currently, the Afghan diplomacy is still active in this arena, it urges all the countries in South Asia, Central Asia and Gulf region to leave their antagonistic interest aside and help the Government in Afghanistan with a strong collaboration.
To this end, Iran is one of the main countries with acentral role to help Afghanistan build a regional consensus on peace and stability. Thus, in Afghanistan, Iran possesses all necessary tools in hand to retaliate against any US action vis à vis the Iran nuclear programme.
Impact on Afghanistan US pulling out from the nuclear deal and the imposition of more sanctions on Iran may have the opposite effect to that intended. It may provoke Iran to act potentially beyond the agreement and expand its support to regional armed factions like Taliban and Shiite groups in Afghanistan.
It largely hampered the development of political and economic relation between Iran and Afghanistan as well as other strategic allies of Afghanistan in the region like India. Furthermore, the extraction will shrink the level of confidence between Afghanistan, Iran and India under the framework of trilateral.
Moreover, the reimposition of sanctions on Iran by US will hamper the regional consensus toward fighting terrorism and assisting Afghanistan to overcome its security and economic problems.
Similarly, Afghanistan’s regional initiatives, mainly Chabahar and TAPI projects may fail to materialise. Sweeping sanctions against Tehran do not only condemn Afghanistan’s campaign of “creating regional consensus” to failure, but could result in the so-called new Great Game concept in the region.
Therefore, Iran’s role in Afghanistan could be changed from spoiler to an all-out destabiliser and could create great challenges to the peacemaking efforts of Afghanistan and US against terrorism.
The attack on the Farah province by Taliban can be counted as an Iranian reaction to US withdrawal from its nuclear deal.
The message was clear, Iran wanted to show to the United States that it can retaliate in many ways, and supporting the Taliban is one of those ways.
What are the preventive measures for Afghanistan, how could Afghanistan manage the state of affairs?
One can argue that Afghanistan’s Government may undertake certain measures instead: First, Afghanistan could announce its position on US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Second, it could work to keep a high level of confidence with Iran, both through reiterating its commitment that Afghan soil will never be used against Iran and likewise, continue holding the bilateral, trilateral and multilateral interactions with Iran.
Third, communicate the negative impacts of this withdrawal by US on Afghanistan and the entire region with P5 countries.
Fourth, Afghanistan could work on a scenario that may possibly help Afghanistan it remain a white zone at least in between the US-Iran and Iran-Saudi Arabia conflicts.
(The writer is First Secretary-Political Incharge, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)
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