In a news conference on Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted that his government accepts financial aid, up to millions of dollars at a time, from the Iranian government “once or twice a year,” further straining relations between the troubled government and the United States.
While Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Feda Hussein Maliki, initially denied that any of his country’s money passes into Afghan hands, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast later confirmed the allegation.
“Iran has provided the country with plenty of help. Iran has helped construction of Afghanistan and the preparation of its economic infrastructure and it will pursue it in the future, too,” said Mehmanparast.
However, many of Karzai’s own staff members also denied the President’s claims.
Karzai, while responding to reporters during the interview, confirmed the matter, “They do give us bags of money – yes, yes, it is done.” He also said Afghanistan is “grateful to the Iranians for this.”
Karzai claimed that he had discussed with and made well aware to President Bush the existence of these Iranian donations at a meeting at Camp David.
He said, “The United States is doing the same thing. They are providing cash to some of our offices.” When asked if the United States does indeed supply actual, physical cash, Karzai responded, “Yes, [the United States] does give bags of money.”
P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesperson, told The Washington Post, “Going back a number of years, because of the nature of the Afghan financial system, there have been times where assistance has come into Afghanistan in the form of cash.”
He went on to say, “Our assistance is focused squarely on helping the Afghan people and the Afghan government improve the quality of governance, security, justice, jobs and services, and give the Afghan people a meaningful alternative to the Taliban recruiting.”
To the U.S., this news seems to be an effort by Iran to gain the upper hand on influence in Afghanistan.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell went as far as to accuse Iran of “training, arming, financing, [and] directing anti-government forces.”
He went on to tell MSNBC, “I think Iran in Afghanistan […] has been walking both sides of the street for years.” Karzai said that the funds have been going towards paying for “special expenses and helping people.”
After his admission during the news conference on Monday, he lashed out on the United States for hiring private security contractors, whom he accused of causing insecurity in Afghan homes, the killing of Afghan children and explosions and terrorism in Afghanistan.”
A ban against these private security companies will go into effect on Dec. 17. Despite pleas from foreign officials, Karzai has so far refused to extend the ban.
Despite the belief that Iran does not want the Taliban to return to power, it is believed they are financing low-level insurgent resistance in order to make things more difficult for the American sphere of influence to take hold in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq.
When asked what Iran wanted in return for the funds, Karzai said, “They have asked for good relations in return and for lots of other things in return.”
A U.S. State Department spokesman did not question Iran’s right to assist Afghanistan, but questioned Tehran’s motives, given its history of playing a “destabilizing role with its neighbors.”