The international anti-terrorism conference held in Tehran last weekend was dampened with fundamental differences but with friendly smiles on the faces. The conference was held amid emerging new concerns about US steep military drawdown from Afghanistan which can prove consequential for Kabul powerful neighbors. Afghanistan have large borders with both countries and both neighbors have had always strong and key role in social, political as well as economic situation in Afghanistan. Islamabad and Tehran clearly understand that crisis-riddled Afghanistan can only buy them influx of suffering and desperate Afghani refugees, who have been a critical issue since the very start of Jihad against former Soviet invasion in 1979.
Thus, sincerely speaking, many allege that a stable Afghanistan is far more beneficial for neighbors rather than being destabilized and safe haven for Taliban-led militants and its Al-Qaeda ally. The problem of refugees in our neighboring countries is not the only issue. There are many other issues too which a destabilized Afghanistan would cause. Every body obviously understands that a weak central government in Afghanistan means larger opium cultivation and larger drug trafficking. Tehran officials have always voiced concern about growing opium cultivation and drug trafficking. There are reports which draw grim picture about growing level of addiction among Iranians.
However, Tehran officials have tried to seal borders and approve strict laws against drug traffickers, but the situation still does not seem much better.
An Iranian friend of mine once asked me about the political and economic situation in Afghanistan. He told me that Afghans were viewed as drug traffickers in Iran. His remark is not completely false. Afghan refugees who have returned back indiscriminately complain about discriminative social environment and recognition of refugees as second rate citizens. Day by day, the criminal laws become harsher but there are no signs of reduction of drug trafficking or level of addiction among youngsters of these countries. Now for few grams of narcotics, the holder would be executed. But ultimately poor Afghan refugees bear the burden and chastised for crimes they have not committed.
Tehran officials have come to understanding that harsher law cannot eliminate drug traffickers nor decrease the growing level of addiction. Thus, there is a better way which comprises mutual interests of Kabul and Tehran—helping Afghan government to cope with militants.
Moreover, a stabilized Afghanistan can be good market for Pakistani and Iranian goods and services, no doubt. The current mutual trade between Kabul and Tehran, as some claim, has crossed a billion dollar annually, which mostly comprise goods and services imported to Afghanistan, not vice versa. Same is the case with Pakistan. While during decades of chaos and instability, mutual and trilateral trades were not crossing millions of Afghani. Afghanistan is also located in a strategic location. It is a crossroad between Middle Asia and India's subcontinent. As see for instance, the prolific TAPI contract among Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India which cannot be realized without a strong and stable Afghanistan.
Considering the above realities, then why Tehran conference was filled with pitch-dark smoke, however, participants and host put joyful and visible smiles on each other's faces? Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is popular for his anti-western rhetoric, and there are rare occasion that he stopped criticizing US and European countries for the so-called discriminative and double standard policies. Before the conference, part of his address was much expected. He clearly blamed US and its allies for helping terrorism. And part of his statement did not actually make sense for me.
On one hand, he was blaming that US and its allies were involved helping Taliban and terrorist networks, on the other hand, he said that terrorism became such a danger that US was unable to cope with. It should be noticed that he did not determine time period. It means he did not mean that US and its western allies used to help Taliban or other groups against Soviet invasion, but what he meant was currently engaged supporting Taliban-led militants. He went further, saying that 9/11 was the very plot of Washington in order to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan and avert the attention of Americans from struggling economic situation at home or pour money into pockets of owners of weapon industries.
Seemingly, the scale by which Mr. Ahmadinejad calculates politics is quite different from conventional measure. The US economy was growing quite well in 2001 when it decided to attack Afghanistan after terrorist attack on New York twin towers. The government was enjoying surplus budget, which now has reached to other end—it is struggling with huge budget deficit partly caused by costly wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. Secondly, he should notice Afghans never viewed US current military engagement as occupation of their country, because history shows that Afghans have never let an occupier to lead their country. We are thankful to both Bush as well as Obama's administration for ousting the most totalitarian Taliban regime, which had brought about huge miseries and murdered tens of thousands of civilians. And also president Karzai, his guest, was elected through the process which US militaries have led.
What Afghans currently want from neighbors is a humble request: leave their country as it is. Kabul officials frequently have voiced out their concern about insincerity of neighbors on ongoing counterinsurgency struggle. Neighbors deem US presence in the country as danger and secretly try to create headache for it. Such evil measures can prolong Afghan people's miseries and decrease the chances for empowerment of democratic institutions. Therefore, instead of blaming US- led international forces for supporting Taliban-led militants or promising of financial support to Afghan officials, they should make a fundamental change in their lasting policies—accept an independent and quasi strong Afghanistan, which would guarantee their interests too.