During Afghanistan's nearly 30 years of civil strife, over 2 million Afghans found refuge in neighboring Iran. Most Afghan refugees have returned in recent years, and now, with Iran gripped by political turmoil, some in Kabul and elsewhere are waiting and watching anxiously to see what happens in their former country of residence. The outcome, the Afghans say, will exert considerable influence over Afghanistan's own development.
Fauzia is among the Afghans who have strong connections to Iran. She was born and lived in Iran until she was 18, returning to Afghanistan with her parents shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Since then, she followed developments in Iran as closely as possible. As a young woman who yearns for expanded civil rights, Fauzia expressed a clear preference to see Iran's aggrieved presidential challenger, Mir Hussein Mousavi, emerge as the winner of the power struggle playing out in Tehran. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"Whatever happens there will affect Afghanistan," said Fauzia, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her identity. If Mousavi were to become president in Iran, she believes, it would lead to expanded opportunities in Kabul, especially for women. "Mousavi can have a good relationship with Western countries and that would be good for Afghanistan," Fauzia explained.
Fauzia feels that while social pressures on women are possibly greater in Afghanistan, she believes she enjoys more personal freedom in Kabul than she did in Iran. "Here [in Afghanistan], I can work, study, do what I want and there is no one to point a finger and tell me what I can do or not do."
There are a significant number of former Afghan refugees who share Fauzia's views. But among Afghanistan's overall population, events in Iran are not so preoccupying. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Afghans have mixed views and varying levels of interest in the ongoing situation there. Even those who claim to be carefully monitoring the news don't seem to be glued to their radios and televisions. While events in Iran are recognized as being intrinsically important to Afghanistan, it is Pakistan that has for decades consistently foisted a more immediate visible impact on Afghanistan, many Afghans tell EurasiaNet.
In the aftermath of the controversial Iranian presidential vote on June 12, what has been perhaps most interesting for Afghans has been the Western reaction, especially comments coming out of Washington. While most viewed the departure of former US President George W. Bush as a positive development, they still reserved judgment on whether Obama's administration would be able to improve America's image in the Muslim world. In that context, Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo, followed by his restrained and carefully calibrated response to the Iranian turmoil, is being viewed as evidence of some real progress in relations between the West and the Muslim world.
Najib Manalai, a political analyst who until recently was a senior adviser in the Ministry of Information and Culture, echoes Fauzia's views. "What happens in Iran affects Afghan politics. Mousavi would try to create an understanding between the United States and Iran. He is less of an extremist [than current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad]. Iran would continue to play a role and fund different groups here, but their intervention would be less violent than now," he told EurasiaNet. While acknowledging that the Iranian government may not have a direct hand in supplying weapons, Manalai believes Tehran is tacitly encouraging weapons shipments into Afghanistan.
Of course, not everyone is an enthusiastic observer. Waheed, a Kabul resident who lived for several years in Iran, greets radio broadcasts of violent demonstrations in Tehran with apathy. Voicing little concern for Iranian politics, he says he is more concerned with the here and now, such as the slow pace of development, rising prices and the lack of jobs in Afghanistan.
His lack of interest resonates with Ahmed Khalid, a Kabul University student. Self-described as politically aware, Khalid feels Afghans suffered a great deal of humiliation as refugees in Iran and Pakistan. "Afghans were treated badly. We don't care what happens there." Yet, further questioning elicits the view that a stable Iran is important to Afghanistan.
Like others following the Iranian situation, Khalid paid close attention to the Western response. He made a careful distinction between the 'West' in general and the United States in particular. "In general, Obama has shown a soft policy towards Muslim countries. Look at his speech in Egypt. This is more normal than under Bush. It is very good."
Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 18 years.