Feb 13, 2015

Iran and Afghanistan Relations after U.S. Withdrawal

Two years ago, in February 2013, I gave a talk at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) at Stanford University on how Iran’s soft power is in decline in Afghanistan, and how it has overly been inclined to resort to hard power. (Here, you can read a short synopsis of my talk’s proposed content.) While some may argue that Iran’s influence is undeniable and perhaps, is more profound than we think, here, I will explore the relationship of Iran with the Hazaras of Afghanistan, especially in the post-Taliban era to determine the extent of Iran’s influence in the country.

I will argue that Iran has not been successful in pursuing its goals appertaining to its foreign policy in Afghanistan because it has lost one of the most useful and traditionally accessible avenues for channeling its influence to the country. This avenue could not be anything else, but the Hazara people who are historically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously closer than anyone else in Afghanistan. The Hazaras are mostly Shiites who constitute the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and for the past decade they have played an important role in every aspects of the country. Iran has been aware of the Hazaras' crucial role and thus, doing anything to receive benefits from its relationship with them.

Given the unpredictability and uncertainty of Afghanistan’s future after the U.S. forces’ withdrawal, it is important to know, and to a certain extent predict, how its neighbors’ behavior will differ from that of the last 13 years. In a series of blog posts, I will look at Iran and Afghanistan’s relationship during the 1980s, through its civil war of the 1990s, and the post-Taliban era. My main focus will be the Hazaras of Afghanistan and their interactions with Iran.


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