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Worries In Afghanistan Over Mounting U.S.-Iran Tensions

FILE: Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in Tehran, September 2018.

KABUL, — Afghans are worried over the possible impact of growing tensions between Iran and the United States after Tehran reacted sharply to Washington’s designation of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) this week.

“The ongoing tensions and conflict between the U.S. and Iran impacts Afghanistan in the security, political, and economic spheres,” lawmaker Mohammad Daud Kalakani told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Kalakani, deputy head of the international relations commission in the lower house of the Afghan Parliament, says his country should not turn into an arena of competition between Tehran and Washington. “Tensions between them are of no benefit to Afghanistan and other countries in the region.”

Iran is prominent among Afghanistan’s six neighbors and has played a major role during the various phases of the now four-decade war in the country. The United States, on the other hand, still has 14,000 troops in Afghanistan and is the main supporter and donor of Kabul. Washington is currently engaged in delicate peace talks with the Taliban to end the longest war in its history in Afghanistan.

The Shi’ite clerical regime in Tehran quietly supported Washington in ousting the hard-line Sunni Taliban from power in late 2001. But its posture gradually changed after former U.S. President George W. Bush included Iran in his ‘Axis of Evil’ during his State of the Union address in early 2002.

Still, the two mostly avoided clashing in Afghanistan directly. In recent years, Afghan and Western officials have accused Tehran of supporting the Taliban. Afghan officials even accused the Quds force, the IRGC’s special operations arm, of advising insurgents in a western Afghan province bordering Iran.

Landlocked Afghanistan, however, has been careful to refrain from antagonizing its southern neighbor as it constantly juggled old and new disputes with another neighbor, Pakistan.

Successful lobbying by Kabul last year convinced Washington to exempt the Indian-build port of Chabahar in southeastern Iran from sanctions. Afghanistan views the port in the Gulf of Oman as key to breaking free of its reliance on Pakistani ports and routes. Iran has also hosted millions of Afghan refugees, and many Afghans still seek employment in the country.

Kabul-based analyst Qudratullah Zwak says growing tensions between the United States and Iran are not a good omen for Afghanistan. “This is not good news for Afghanistan and might prolong the war and crisis in our country,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Zwak says Kabul will now require a balancing act. “The Afghan government will particularly need to adopt a balanced approach toward Iran and America,” he said.

But balancing relations between a global and a regional giant might prove an uphill task for Kabul.

Senior Iranian officials reacted angrily to the IRGC’s designation. "With this stupidity, the American army and security forces will no longer have today's calm in the West Asia region," IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying by the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency a day before the official designation on April 8.

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump said the unprecedented designation will significantly expand the scope and scale of U.S. pressure on the Iranian regime.

“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” he said.

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