US-Iran thaw could bolster Afghanistan rebuilding efforts
In The Hague this week, Iranian officials offered to cooperate with the US. Iran has pursued an ambitious redevelopment effort in Afghanistan since 2001.
In a crowded section near the western edge of the capital sits a sprawling new university compound, a structure of ornate white stone and blue-tiled domes.Skip to next paragraph
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As hundreds of students here file in for morning classes, many say they have one country to thank for helping to improve higher learning in this education-starved country: Iran.
At an international conference on Afghanistan in The Hague this week, Iranian officials offered to cooperate with the United States on developing and reconstructing Afghanistan. Though deep mistrust remains between the two countries, the move marked a thaw in relations and could facilitate Washington's efforts to turn the situation around here.
"The conference underlines Iran's willingness to play a cooperative role and can jump-start Obama's policy of getting more support throughout the region," says Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department analyst on Afghanistan-Pakistan and currently a scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute based in Washington.
More cooperation between Washington and Tehran could bolster development efforts. For example, according to "Afghanistan's Other Neighbors: Iran, Central Asia, and China," a recent report from the Washington-based think tank, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, the US forbade contractors to purchase cheaper and more readily available Iranian asphalt to build a key highway here, presumably because of the hostile relations between the two countries.
Iran's support is crucial, Mr. Weinbaum says, because of its longstanding political, cultural, and economic interests in Afghanistan.
For example, Tehran has been working on an ambitious development plan here since 2001, mostly near its shared border with Afghanistan but also in the north and in major cities. Iran's projects provide a glimpse of how much more it could help the country in the future, says Weinbaum.
According to the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella organization that tracks aid here, Iran has disbursed nearly a half-billion dollars in aid since 2001. In fact, Iran is one of the most effective donors in the country, delivering 93 percent of the aid it has pledged. By comparison, the US has delivered only 48 percent of $5 billion in pledged aid; India has contributed 24 percent of its $200 million in pledged aid.
The western city of Herat has boomed with Iran's beneficence. Unlike most of the country, the city boasts 24-hour electricity, dozens of industrial zones, paved roads, and more. Iran is responsible for much of this, according to government officials. Elsewhere, Iran has built mosques and education centers and provided loans to Afghan businessmen. Iranian entrepreneurs have poured investment dollars into the country.