Iran aids Afghans as US frets
Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is in Tehran for talks with Iran's government.
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"Khan aligned himself closer to Iran than the interim government initially - perhaps for his own security interests," says a Western relief worker who asked not to be named. "But he is a ruler in the traditional sense and is adjusting his views. Khan understands that he needs to be closer to Kabul, to comply with the rules."Skip to next paragraph
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Iran, adamantly opposed the Taliban and backed the rebel Northern Alliance for six years. Iranian officials point out that their support allowed the US to turn the alliance into a proxy force in the northeast of the country to help topple the Taliban last year. In the west, after Khan escaped from a Taliban prison in Kandahar in 2000, he sought exile in Iran and was allowed to muster forces among refugees there to join the battle against the Taliban on the western front.
"We want peace and stability in Afghanistan, and we are anxious about events there because they have a direct impact on our country," says Elahe Koulaiei, a member of Iran's parliamentary foreign affairs and security commission. "Our official policy is to protect the interim government, to back Karzai.
"But there are some different outlooks and views in our country - in all things," Ms. Koulaiei says, adjusting her headscarf. "With respect to the US accusation, there may be some real matters, I don't deny it."
Iran's parliament has launched an inquiry into the US accusations.
Khan is one of the most well-known mujahideen commanders to have fought during the 1980s Soviet occupation. He went on to become governor, and has brought a degree of security to this region that is almost unparalleled elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Khan says he is "surprised" by the allegations of Iranian interference, which he says come from Taliban sources "not yet finally defeated" who are trying to destabilize his rule for their own future designs.
"Some American friends are here already, and are witness to the situation," Khan says, referring to a four-man American military civil-military unit based in Herat the past two months. They are helping relief agencies and the United Nations fill gaps in humanitarian projects, and they say they have seen no evidence of undue Iranian influence here.
"Our policy is that both the US and Iran are working for the same objective: a stable Afghanistan," says Curt, a captain in the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, who could not give his full name. The unit is among a group of American plainclothes soldiers billeted for months in the highest building in Herat, on a military base directly above the governor's guesthouse.
"I have not seen anything in the western region that [Iran] is undermining this," the captain says.
But Khan's ties to Iran have not always been so close. During his first term as governor from 1992 to 1995, his views seemed to not favor Iran. Back then, agreement on a large road-building project from Herat to the border fell apart two or three times. Bulldozers and graders are racing now to open the way, which is critical to commerce.
"I don't think Khan likes Iran too much," says an Afghan observer who asked not to be named. "And Khan is a little afraid of Iran right now, because Afghanistan has no owner now. They don't support each other."
Iran has committed $567 million, and the US has committed $296 million so far, to halt drug trade and rebuild Afghanistan.
"We insist on being in Afghanistan, and will remain in Afghanistan," Kharrazi, Iran's foreign minister, says.