Afghanistan’s Pajhwok News Agency reports on Wednesday that Iran had allocated $25 million for blocking the parliamentary approval of the Strategic Cooperation Agreement (SPA) between Kabul and Washington. According to the report, Tehran has tasked an influential parliamentarian from eastern Nangarhar Province, Hazrat Ali, to distribute between $5,000 and $10,000 to each lawmaker willing to oppose the deal. The official added that Ali’s wife was an Iranian citizen and that he also owned a house in Mashhad, the capital of Iran’s Khorasan Razavi Province.
The fresh allegations come only a few days after Iran’s ambassador to Kabul threatened the chief of Afghanistan’s Senate that his country would deport the 2.5 million Afghans living in Iran if the parliament approved the pact with Washington. Iran understands that Afghanistan cannot absorb more than two million returnees at this time, and has thus used the threat of deportation over the past years to gain political concessions from the Kabul government. [Read: Iranian Influence in Afghanistan: Refugees as Political Instruments]
It is not the first time Iran is trying to bribe Afghan legislators to strain ties between Kabul and Washington and shape Afghan policies to benefit Tehran. U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks showed Iranian spies paid Afghan parliamentarians to support “anti-Coalition policies and to raise anti-American talking points” during parliamentary debates. Moreover, Iran is providing more than $100 million in annual aid to a wide range of social, cultural, religious, and media organizations to promote its political and ideological interests and incite anti-Americanism. [Read: Iranian Influence in Afghanistan: Imam Khomeini Relief Committee]
Over the past ten years, Iran has played both sides of the conflict in Afghanistan. Tehran has cultivated close ties with Kabul and actively participated in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. On the contrary, Iran’s secretive Quds Force has provided weapons and financial assistance to the Taliban to hurt America. And as Washington is winding down the war in Afghanistan, Tehran has launched a forceful hard power and soft power campaign to speed up the U.S. withdrawal and maximize influence in Afghanistan’s future. Right now, Washington has no comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s growing influence in Afghanistan, which harms U.S. interests in the region. [Read AEI’s new report: Iranian Influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan]