Afghanistan–Iran relations were established in 1935 during King Zahir Shah's reign and the Pahlavi dynasty of Persia. They have been negatively affected by the 1979 Iranian Revolution and issues related to the 1978–present Afghan conflicts (i.e. Mujahideen, Afghan refugees, and Taliban), as well as Iran's water dispute, the growing influence of the United States in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan shares a relatively long history with Iran (called Persia in the West before 1935). When the Safavid dynasty was founded in Persia, part of what is now Afghanistan was ruled by the Khanate of Bukhara and Babur from Kabulistan. The first Iranian Safavid Shah Shah Ismail I quickly expanded his empire in all directions, in which he also conquered large parts of nowadays Afghanistan. For centuries they ruled the region and the Safavids didn't have any problems at first ruling the eastern most territories of their empire, but their policy towards non-Shia subjects became worse and worse over time. Wars began between the Shia Safavids and the larger Sunnis, particularly in the Old Kandahar region. By the late 17th century, the Safavids were heavily declining. They had appointed their Georgian subject Gurgin Khan as governor of Kandahar in order to forcefully convert the Afghans from Sunni Islam to Shia Islam. This went with much oppression and violence. It remained this way until the rise of Mirwais Hotak, a well-respected Sunni Ghilzai Pashtun tribal chief. Mirwais succeeded in defeating the declining Safavids in a succession of battles and declared southern Afghanistan a completely independent country. His son Mahmud conquered Persia for a short time in 1722, while it was ridden by civil strife and foreign interests from the Safavids their arch rivals, the Ottomans and the Russians. and soon after the Safavid dynasty ended.
Despite these event of the past, there are cultural ties between the two nations extending thousands of years. As a result, an eastern dialect of Persian, Dari is one of the official language of Afghanistan. Many in Afghanistan celebrate Nowruz, a pre-Islamic Iranian spring celebration celebrated in many countries and regions in the world, of which the main representative is Balkh (a province in the north of Afghanistan).
Afghanistan signed a treaty of friendship with Iran in 1921, when the country was ruled by King Amanullah Khan and Iran was still under the Qajar dynasty. In September 1961 ties between two countries were broken off and resumed in May 1963. Prior to 1979, the year in which both Iran underwent the Iranian Revolution and Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union, the issue of water rights of the Helmand River were an issue of great importance between the two nations. Disputes over the Helmand water are noted in the 1870s, flaring again after the river changed course in 1896. In 1939, the kings of the two countries signed an accord to share water rights, which was signed but never ratified; this was repeated in 1973 with a treaty between the prime ministers of both nations, and again not ratified.
In December 1979, the Soviet Union sent around 100,000 troops to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan to assist the PDPA government against a nationwide mujahideen insurgency. The mujahideen were made up of various groups that were trained by Pakistan and the West. In the wake of the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian consulate in Afghanistan closed, as did the Afghan consulate in Iran. Relations between Afghanistan and Iran quickly deteriorated even more. In 1985, Iran urged Afghan Shia groups to unite and oppose the Government of Afghanistan. Iran supported the mujahideen rebels and provided various types of assistances to them who pledged loyalty to the Iranian Revolution. In the meantime, over a million Afghan refugees were allowed to enter Iran.
Following the emergence of the Taliban government and their harsh treatment of Afghanistan's minorities, Iran stepped up assistance to the Northern Alliance. Relations with the Taliban deteriorated further in 1998 after Taliban forces seized the Iranian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif and executed Iranian diplomats.
Since late 2001, the new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai has engaged in cordial relations with both Iran and the United States, even as relations between the United States and Iran have grown strained due to American objections to Iran's nuclear program. Iran was an important factor in the overthrow of the Taliban and has since helped revive Afghanistan's economy and infrastructure. It re-opened the Iranian Embassy in Kabul and its associated consulates in other Afghan cities. In the meantime, Iran joined the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Most of its contributions are aimed at developing the Afghan Shi'a communities, especially the ethnic Hazaras and Qizilbash. Iran also has influence on political parties represented by ethnic Tajiks, which includes Abdullah Abdullah's Coalition for Change and Hope and others. On the contrary, many Afghan politicians and experts claim that both Iran and Pakistan are working to weaken Afghanistan.
Besides Afghan lawmakers, leaders in the United States and many NATO officials also believe that Iran is meddling in Afghanistan by playing a double game. Iran usually denies these accusations. For a number of years many senior ISAF officials and others have been accusing Iran of supplying and training the Taliban insurgents.
"We did interdict a shipment, without question the Revolutionary Guard's core Quds Force, through a known Taliban facilitator. Three of the individuals were killed... Iranians certainly view as making life more difficult for us if Afghanistan is unstable. We don't have that kind of relationship with the Iranians. That's why I am particularly troubled by the interception of weapons coming from Iran. But we know that it's more than weapons; it's money; it's also according to some reports, training at Iranian camps as well."
The government of Iran is strongly against the American military presence in Afghanistan. Iranian officials often criticize specifically the American military in Afghanistan despite that there are also around 6,645 European and other peace-keeping troops present.
"The Americans will have the same success in Afghanistan as in Vietnam. Years ago the Soviet Union made exactly the same mistake. Many people were killed and it finally pulled out. History repeats itself. We know Afghanistan. We know that Afghanistan will never submit to foreign armies."— Ali Larijani, July 2010
 Ties between Afghanistan and Iran became further strained in recent years due to Iran's toughened immigration policy, hastening the repatriation of many Afghan asylum seekers. A number of Afghans were executed by hanging in public for crimes punishable with death in Iran (murder, rape, smuggling large amount of drugs, and armed robbery) which sparked angry demonstrations in Afghanistan. Between 2010 and 2011, Afghan and Iranian security forces were involved in border skirmish in Nimroz Province of Afghanistan. In July 2011, Iran decided to cut off electricity exports to Afghanistan's Nimroz Province. In March 2012, Najibullah Kabuli, leader of the National Participation Front (NPF) of Afghanistan, accused three senior leaders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards of plotting to assassinate him. Some members of the Afghan Parliament accuses Iran of setting up Taliban bases in several Iranian cities, and that "Iran is directly involved in fanning ethnic, linguistic and sectarian tensions in Afghanistan."
— Syed Kamal, a self-confessed agent for Iran's Revolutionary Guards and member of Sipah-i-Mohmmad
According to Saudi Arabia, Afghan Senate members certified the existence of documents which affirm that the Taliban collected endorsements from both Iran and Russia. Thus members of the Taliban are located in the cities of Mashhad, Yazd and Kerman in Iran. Moreover, the Governor of the state of Farah in Afghanistan, Asif Ning, also confirmed this in an interview with the Dari-speaking Freedom Radio stating: "They are living in the cities of Yazd, Kerman and Mashhad. They eventually return to Afghanistan to vandalize. At the time being, a number of senior members of the Taliban leaders are living in Iran", adding that "[t]he bodies of Taliban fighters killed in recent clashes were delivered to their families in Iran".
Afghanistan has an embassy in Tehran and a consulate in Mashad. In order to prohibit Afghans coming into the country bringing mostly crime and problems with them, as of 2007, Iran charges Afghans over $100 US dollars for a one-month regular visa and a business visa costs them over $3,000 US dollars. Before 2007, the visa was issued with only $35 fee.
Trade between the two nations has increased dramatically since the overthrow of the Taliban government in late 2001. Iran and Afghanistan plan on building a new rail line connecting Mashhad to Herat. In 2009, Iran was one of the largest investor in Afghanistan, which is mainly in the construction of roads and bridges as well as agriculture and health care.
According to the chairman of Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Iran's exports to Afghanistan in 2008 stood at $800 million. IRNA quoted Mohammad Qorban Haqju as saying that Iran imported $4 million worth of products like fresh and dried fruits, minerals, precious stones, and spices from the neighboring country. He said that Iran exported oil products, cement, construction material, carpets, home appliances, and detergents. Iran imported nuts, carpets, agricultural products as well as handicrafts from Afghanistan. Afghanistan imports 90 percent of its needs, except agricultural products.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Afghanistan–Iran relations.|
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