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

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s admission that his office has taken 'bags of money' from Iran are part of an effort to undermine Tehran’s role in negotiations with the Taliban, argues a regional analyst.

By , Staff writer

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    Afghan President Hamid Karzai listened Monday during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai told reporters that once or twice a year Iran gives his office $700,000 to $975,000 for official presidential expenses. He said the US has known about the Iranian assistance for years and that Washington also gives the palace 'bags of money.'
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The revelations that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office has taken “bags of money” from Iran are part of an effort to undermine Tehran’s role in negotiations with the Taliban, argues a regional analyst.

Mr. Karzai confirmed Monday an earlier report that his chief of staff received a bag of cash from the Iranians.

The reaction from most experts was a collective yawn: It’s only natural that a neighboring country would be trying to influence Afghan affairs. But the revelation did pique some analyst interest in why the unnamed officials leaked this information now.

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Read this story: Why Karzai readily admits receiving bags of Iranian cash

The leak came just days after the United States reiterated it was open to Iran playing a role in the tentative discussions with the Taliban, notes Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with the Texas-based intelligence group Stratfor.

“The purpose of such leaks is to at least undermine the existing dynamic … [that includes] involving Iran in this process,” said Mr. Bokhari in a video posted on Stratfor’s website.

“If the United States is forced to take a stand on this and come out and condemn Iran for providing the money, and then condemn the Karzai regime for accepting the money, it basically risks alienating both sides – both of whom the United States needs to be able to push forward on this settlement process,” he said.

After the press conference, the US Embassy in Kabul delayed responding to an influx of reporter queries. On Monday night, embassy spokesperson Caitlin Hayden finally sent a mass email saying: “The Embassy is going to decline to comment tonight…. We refer you to the State Department in Washington to address.”

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The White House deputy spokesman did weigh in during a press gaggle.

“I think the American people and the global community have every reason to be concerned about Iran trying to have a negative influence on Afghanistan,” said Bill Burton. “But they have a responsibility just like all their neighbors to try to have a positive influence on the formation of a government there, and to ensure that Afghanistan is not a country where terrorists can find safe harbor, or where attacks can be planned on their soil.

Meanwhile, in recent days, US officials have been downplaying the extent of recent high profile talks with the Taliban, noting that they are more “talks about talks” at this point.

One country unhappy with the shape of the discussions so far is Pakistan. Media reports there reveal that Pakistani security officials are frustrated at being iced out of these early overtures between Karzai’s government and Taliban representatives.

“We would like to be part of it,” the Pakistani military spokesman told the Wall Street Journal, Gen. Athar Abbas said Pakistan has heard nothing from Washington or Kabul who is participating in the discussions.

“If they’re going to make the same mistake, let them do it,” said General Abbas in an apparent reference to past contacts between the two sides, which Pakistan is widely believed to have disrupted because Islamabad was not included.

STORY: Why Karzai readily admits receiving bags of Iranian cash

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