Afghans Fear Fallout from Iran Sanctions
By Hafizullah Gardesh in Kabul,
Institute for War and Peace Reporting
If the United Nations takes tough measures
against Iran, its neighbour Afghanistan will be undermined economically and
could be drawn into a new conflict.As the
threat of United Nations sanctions continues to hang over Iran, Afghanistan
looks on nervously, concerned that its close economic ties with its western
neighbour could suffer serious damage.
Some analysts are warning that
the Iranians might decide to support Afghan insurgent groups as a way of getting
back at the United States, which has taken the lead in pushing for action on the
Iranian nuclear programme.
Diplomats from six key UN members - the US,
Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - met last week to discuss what
sanctions might be applied against Tehran if it fails to suspend uranium
enrichment and come back to the negotiating table. Iran missed an August 31 to
comply with a UN resolution imposed a month earlier, which contained the threat
The government of President Hamed Karzai has close ties
with the Americans, so would find it difficult to flout any formal embargo on
trade with Iran.
But Afghan officials and commentators are keenly aware
that sanctions would have a major impact on their own economy, reducing
much-needed imports and forcing Iranian investors to pull in their horns.
Although it is not clear what UN sanctions would include, they might
reduce its capacity to export goods freely - bad news for the Afghans, who
import fuel, construction materials, food and other items worth 500 million US
dollars a year, according to Hamidullah Farooqi, chief executive officer of the
Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce.
Farooqi told IWPR that
many of the estimated 2,000 Iranian private firms now in the country would be
likely to close, reducing production capacity and costing jobs in Afghanistan’s
Other investors, too, would be affected. Mohammad
Azim Wardak, who heads the foreign trade department at the trade ministry, said
even those who are now bold enough to invest in Afghanistan would likely be
scared off by the prospect of conflict in the wider region.
stand, few investors are willing to invest in Afghanistan because of the lack of
domestic security,” he said. “When one of its neighbours moves towards
instability, even to war, because of sanctions, no domestic or foreign investor
will ever invest in Afghanistan. Many of them now share this
The economic, social and political implications of possible
sanctions are closely intertwined. For example, what would happen to the
approximately one million Afghans who the United Nations says are still living
as refugees in Iran.
"Once sanctions are imposed on Iran, it will have
to expel the Afghan refugees living in Iran as it will face an economic crisis.
When they [refugees] return to Afghanistan, there will be no jobs waiting for
them there,” said Farooqi. “It will be a big problem for the
Political analyst Abdul Razaq Mamoon suggested that a
decision to send all the refugees home might be motivated not so much by
economic necessity as by the political leverage it would bring.
expel the…. refugees in order to bring pressure on the Afghan government and the
international community,” he said, adding that this would have major political,
security and economic implications.
Tehran has long argued that it is
time for the Afghans to go home. In mid-September, its labour and social affairs
ministry warned employers they would face heavy penalties if they hired Afghan
A massive refugee return and the withdrawal of Iranian employers
from Afghanistan would overwhelm an already difficult job market, leading to
large numbers of unemployed people which trade ministry official Wardak warned
would have a “very negative effect” on the security situation.
analyst Fazul Rahman Orya predicts that Tehran itself would take direct action
to make things even hotter for the Americans and their Coalition allies in
"If Iran comes under pressure, it’s going to be encouraged
to support anti-government militants and establish contacts with Taleban,” he
said. “Cultural, religious and political organisations that Iran has set up in
Afghanistan will begin campaigning against America activities, pro-Iranian
officials in the executive and parliament will move against the government and
the Americans… and in the end the political and security situation will get even
Orya claimed that Iranian diplomatic missions in the country had
operated as intelligence organisations for years. “They will step up anti-US
activities so that Afghanistan becomes a battleground for America and Iran, in
which Afghans are the losers,” he said.
Analyst Mamoon, too, predicted
dire consequences in the event of a conflict.
"If war breaks out in
Iran, Afghanistan will be the weakest point because the Iranians will attack
large cities there since there are Americans and other westerners there," he
The question, then, is whether the Afghan government can do
anything to reduce the risks, and if so, what?
Some analysts believe the
Karzai administration’s hands are tied.
"Afghanistan is not in a
position to decide by itself. This country relies on American political,
military and economic assistance. It will have to support the policy that
America wants," said Mamoon.
Mohammad Ismail Youn, a political analyst
who lectures at Kabul University, prescribed extreme caution, saying,
“Historical experience shows that a policy of neutrality is the most effective
The government itself remains inscrutable on the
issue, with presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi merely making a
diplomatic comment that "we hope the Iranian nuclear problem will be solved
through negotiations, so that there won't be any sanctions".
Gardesh is an IWPR editor in Kabul.
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