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Why Karzai readily admits receiving bags of Iranian cash

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he accepts bags of cash from Iran. What do the Iranians want in return?

By Staff writer / October 25, 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai talks to the President of Tajikistan Emomalii Rahmon in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 25. Karzai told reporters Monday that once or twice a year Iran gives his office $700,000 to $975,000 for official presidential expenses.

Allauddin Khan/AP Photo

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted in a press conference Monday that his office accepts “bags of money” from the Iranian government.

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That bald acknowledgment brings out into the open two uncomfortable facts confronting the US plan to build a modern democracy in Afghanistan. Just as in Iraq, Iran is successfully buying influence with Afghan leaders. And Mr. Karzai – like many members of Afghanistan's political class – sees bags of cash as a perfectly legitimate tool of statecraft.

Iran’s efforts may extend beyond Karzai’s palace. Members of Parliament say other politicians are taking Iranian money. And recent media reports claim that the Iranians are paying the Taliban to kill US soldiers.

What does Iran want for its bags of cash? First and foremost, Iran wants pressure put on international forces to leave its doorstep.

Update: Karzai's acknowledgement of bags of Iranian cash: Why now?

“The Iranians are happy with the Karzai regime being established in Afghanistan – in this way, the US and Iran are aligned. But when it comes to international forces in Afghanistan, the Iranians are quite unhappy about this,” says Waliullah Rahmani, head of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.

The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan put American forces on the ground on either side of Iran. In Afghanistan, US forces at Shindand Airbase are less than 75 miles from the Iranian border.

Yankees go home

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan as a means of stabilizing the region.

Foreign policy wags often point out that the American “war on terror” has inadvertently strengthened the regional clout of US-foe Iran. Yet, Iran and the US ultimately share an ally in Karzai, since both nations are opposed to a Taliban resurgence.

When in power, the Taliban killed Iranian diplomats and oppressed the Shia minority in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's new Constitution, written after the NATO invasion, officially recognized the rights of the Shiites for the first time in Afghanistan's history. Karzai's government also includes members of the Northern Alliance whom Iran supported in previous decades.

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