US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not off the mark on Wednesday when she stated in clear terms that Iran has a role to play in the stabilisation of Afghanistan. Iran’s differences with America, be they over nuclear power or the regime’s overall ideology, have a long and tortuous history. ‘Death to America’ is a popular refrain in pro-government rallies in Tehran while the demonisation of Iran is rampant even today in the most respectable of US media outlets. America, apparently, has never come to terms with the fact that its staunchest ally in Iran, the Shah, was ousted through a popular uprising that, many believed, was hijacked by the Islamist followers of Ayatollah Khomeini. And Iran, for its part, has been following an equally antagonistic approach towards the West that makes no pragmatic sense. Both sides need to find some middle ground which allows all regional stakeholders to put their heads together and find a balm for the festering wound that is Afghanistan.
The question here is: what’s in it for Iran? It shares a huge border with Afghanistan and is a major regional player whose decisions, particularly on the economic front, even affect Pakistan. But can Iran be brought to the negotiating table in the current atmosphere of hostility?
America believes that Iran has “a role” to play in Afghanistan’s stabilisation and at the same time is pushing for ever-stricter sanctions against Tehran. The two goals are not compatible and the US must reassess its relationship with Iran on a holistic level if it hopes to find cooperation from so key a regional player. An alliance with Pakistan alone may not solve the Afghan mess that is becoming more unmanageable by the day. Other neighbours, such as Iran, must be taken into confidence so that the vision shared by the US, the Karzai government and Pakistan can be realised sooner than later. It is now clear that Nato is desperately in search of an exit strategy vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Given Afghanistan’s complex ethnic and tribal divisions, it is imperative that Pakistan and Iran are on the same page as America.Like AwamiWeb