The Great Debate UK

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Iran’s role in Afghanistan

ahmadinejadkarzaiIran has been hosting regional leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, to celebrate the Persian New Year, or Nowruz (a spring festival whose equivalent in Pakistan, incidentally, is frowned upon by its own religious conservatives).

The Nowruz celebrations, which also included the presidents of Iraq, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, are part of Iran's efforts to build regional ties and followed renewed debate over the kind of role Iran wants to play in Afghanistan. As discussed here, it has also been improving ties with Pakistan, and both countries may have worked together on the arrest last month of Abdolmalik Rigi, leader of the Jundollah rebel group.

Depending on who you listen to, Iran is either an unlikely potential ally of the United States in Afghanistan, with shared common interests in stabilising the country, or a spoiler ready to support its old enemies the Afghan Taliban in order to undermine Washington's position.  Others put it somewhere in between, like every other country in the region biding its time in order to make sense of the U.S. exit strategy from Afghanistan, while also picking its way through a showdown with the United States over its nuclear programme.

Evidence so far of its exact intentions on Afghanistan is sketchy. After initially supporting the United States following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 -Shi'ite Iran has no natural sympathy with the hardline Sunni Taliban - it found itself branded by former president George W. Bush as part of the axis of evil in 2002, and then after 2003 squeezed between U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.