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Editor’s Note: FMSO’s Operational Environment Watch provides translated selections and analysis from a diverse range of foreign articles and other media that analysts and expert contributors believe will give military and security experts an added dimension to their critical thinking about the Operational Environment.
Source: “Aval Hamsaye-ha gharamit bipurdazand.” (“First the Neighbors Should Pay Compensation” Hasht-e Sobh (8 a.m.). 28 March 2012.
Michael Rubin: February and March were bad months for the Western presence in Afghanistan. First the accidental burning of the Quran and then a lone soldier’s massacre of Afghan civilians undercut U.S. efforts to win Afghan hearts and minds. According to some polls, support among Americans for the mission in Afghanistan fell sharply to less than 25 percent.
While television cameras do not lie, they seldom give the full perspective. While many Afghans came out to protest, the vast majority did not. Kabul is a city of five million people, yet few protests topped 1,000 people. As much as the American press focuses on U.S.-Afghan relations as if the dance between the two was solitary, the Afghan perspective is broader and is less willing than many Americans to demonize the U.S. presence.
From the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, American diplomats and military officials have remained frustrated at Pakistan’s subversive role in Afghanistan. Pakistanis and Americans both consider former Inter- Service Intelligence Chief Hamid Gul to be the “Father of the Taliban.” Any doubt that at least some elements in Pakistan supported Al Qaeda ended with Usama Bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad, a town near the Pakistani military’s elite academy. Yet, as much as Western analysts focus on Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, over the past two years conversations on the streets of not only an Afghan city like Herat—traditionally close to Iran both in terms of geography and culture—but also Kabul and Kandahar have focused instead on growing Iranian interference.
Iran’s December 2010 oil blockade, which sent food prices skyrocketing in Kabul, and the 18 January 2011 acid attack on a Kabul journalist critically eroded the little goodwill many Afghans have toward their overbearing neighbor. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s antics during a threeday visit to Tajikistan in March 2012 was the icing on the cake for many Afghans. Afghans resented how Iran’s firebrand president seemed intent to use Afghanistan as a chess piece in his proxy battle with the United States, rather than working constructively to help secure Afghanistan’s future. At a time when Afghans needed their neighbors to cooperate to bolster security, Ahmadinejad did the opposite.
Hasht-e Sobh, from which this selection is drawn, is Afghanistan’s newspaper of record. Its analysis is bold and independent, and tends to reflect the opinions of the more educated elite. In a series of articles in late March it examined the deleterious role Iran is increasingly playing in Afghan society, and used Ahmadinejad’s Dushanbe speech to drive home the point that Afghanistan’s problems derive much more from their neighbors than from Western occupation. At the same time the article reflects the growing Afghan concern that an early Western withdrawal might lead Iran and Pakistan to reignite the civil war which so destabilized Afghanistan in the early 1990s and ultimately enabled the Taliban to come to power in the first place.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.
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