In a surprising admission, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that his government receives "bags of money" from Iran to the tune of $980,000 once or twice every year. The revelation follows a report in The New York Times from Saturday, in which Karzai's chief of staff was said to be accepting Iranian money in exchange for influence in the presidential palace. How troubling is Karzai's admission?
- We Should Take This Seriously, writes Max Boot at Commentary:
These cash payments hardly mean that Karzai is a dupe of Iran. He gets much more money and support from the U.S. than from the Iranians, and he knows that. He is, like most politicians, primarily looking out for numero uno and that means ensuring that he is not entirely reliant on a single ally that has proved fickle in the past.
This should, however, alert us to the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan. If we leave prematurely, Afghanistan will once again be the scene of a massive civil war, with neighboring states, and in particular Pakistan and Iran, doing their utmost to exert their influence to the detriment of our long-term interests. That is yet one more reason why it is important to prevail in Afghanistan.
- Iran's Not the Real Threat Here, writes Julius Cavendish at The Independent: "Whatever the exact scale of Iranian aid to the insurgents, it pales in significance compared with the support they receive from Pakistan, another neighbour with a powerful vested interest in Afghanistan's future. More than anything the 'bags of money' saga is a sad and slightly farcical reminder of the boxing match outsiders have been conducting in Afghanistan for decades, to the country's terrible expense."
- Still, Iranian 'Bags of Money' Are Troublesome, writes Massoumeh Torfeh at The Guardian:
True, it is not just Iran that uses cash payments to buy political and military support. The US has done the same in Iraq and Afghanistan to encourage insurgents to switch sides. Yet, that was announced as a military strategy. Whatever the excuses, and whoever enters into these backhand methods of buying political support, they are all guilty of deceiving the public. President Karzai's explanation makes a mockery of transparency, and Iran's method of passing bags of money between its ambassador and the president's chief of staff flouts all diplomatic norms.
- This Doesn't Surprise Me, writes Tony Karon at Time: "[Karzai's] government is taking money from both Iran and the U.S. — and insisting that it will take orders from neither. If the latest reports are intended to signal that Afghanistan's government is not on board with the U.S. effort to contain Iranian influence in the region — well, Karzai has never made any secret of that fact. After all, he'll have to live with Iran on his border long after the Americans depart."
- There's One Important Point to Remember, writes Juan Cole at Informed Comment: "Iran does not want Qandahar in the hands of the Taliban... The Iranians hate the Taliban and it is mutual. The two almost went to war with one another in 1998 over the killing of Iranian diplomats at Mazar. The Iranians backed the Northern Alliance in its dark days when al-Qaeda had it bottled up in the northeast, and Karzai is still backed by some NA warlords.... The revelation that Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai receives millions in influence peddling payments from Iran... demonstrates that the US and Iran are de facto allies in Afghanistan."