KABUL -- Through supporting the Taliban and expanding the scope of war, Iran is trying to make Afghanistan import dependent and derail its neighbour's plans for economic development, Afghan officials and analysts say.
"Through destabilising Afghanistan, Iran wants to destroy the economy, trade and manufacturing industry of Afghanistan, forever turning our country into a consumer market," Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang, former Afghan minister of commerce and a scholar of development economics, told Salaam Times.
"Iran wants to make Afghanistan dependent on Iranian products and commodities, an attempt that so far has been successful," he said, adding that 10 years ago Afghanistan's imports from Iran totaled $200 million (13.6 billion AFN).
"Our annual imports from Iran now exceed $1.5 billion (102 billion AFN)," he said.
The Afghan government has plans to turn the country into an economic and transit hub for the region, Farhang said, citing the under-construction Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline and the New Silk Road initiative, which aims to integrate trade, transportation and energy markets across Central Asia and Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is important in terms of the political and economic geography of the region," he said.
"Iran, however, can never tolerate the implementation of such major economic programmes in Afghanistan," Farhang said. "Therefore, in every possible way, such as support for the Taliban or dozens of other destructive plans, Iran will do its utmost to make Afghanistan unstable in terms of security, politics and the economy."
Creating crisis in Afghanistan's economy
"Iran is in pursuit of its economic benefits by creating crisis in the Afghan economy," said Zarif Aminyar, an economist at Dunya University of Afghanistan in Kabul.
"Through supporting the Taliban and its destructive plans, Iran has been hampering Afghanistan's economic growth and domestic production and has been weakening the Afghan manufacturing sector," he told Salaam Times.
Afghan saffron, carpets, and fresh and dried fruits are among the best in the region, Aminyar said.
"Our country has good capacity and potential for business, investment and domestic manufacturing," he said. "Iran, however, is trying to eliminate such capacities."
Iran also aims to make Afghan products and industries unable to compete with Iranian goods in foreign markets, he said. "For this purpose, the Iranians are using the Taliban, and even other individuals and groups, to make Afghanistan unsafe."
"If peace and security are established in Afghanistan, this country will be free from dependence on Iran's products and merchandise and will become economically self sufficient," he said.
Destabilising border areas, infrastructure
Afghanistan's efforts for infrastructure development have spurred Iranian interference, said Mohammad Nasir Mehri, a spokesperson for the Farah provincial governor.
"Since the inauguration of construction on the Bakshabad dam [earlier in 2017 in Farah Province], Iran has provided the Taliban with much financial and military support so that the group can easily destroy major economic projects ... and to enable Iran to eventually use a larger portion of Afghanistan's water to its advantage," he told Salaam Times.
In addition to seeking to undermine Afghanistan's economy, Iran even pays for militants' housing in Iran, provincial officials said.
"Iran has provided several Taliban officials and military commanders with nice living conditions in Iranian cities such as Zahedan, Mashhad and Kerman," a security official in Farah Province told Salaam Times on condition of anonymity.
"Mullah Dawud Muzammil, the Taliban's appointed governor of Farah; Mullah Bari Jan; Sufi Bahadur; Mullah Samad, a commander of the Taliban's special forces; and Mullah Nematullah are among those who live with their families in luxury in Iran," the security official said.
"From there, they remotely lead the war in Farah, Badghis, Nimroz and Herat provinces," he said. "From time to time they come to Afghanistan; however, they flee back to Iran upon the launch of military operations by the Afghan security forces."
"Iran is seeking to establish strongholds and bases for the Taliban at its border with Farah Province, so that at any time it can manage its destructive plans in Farah, Herat and Ghor provinces by the hands of the Taliban," Jamila Amini, chair of the Farah Provincial Council, told Salaam Times.
"Many [bodies of] water flow from Farah Province to Sistan Province in Iran," she said. "If the construction [of Bakhshabad dam] is completed, then Iran can no longer excessively use water that goes through Farah. Therefore, one of the goals sought by Iran in supporting the Taliban is destruction of the Bakhshabad dam."
Fanning the flames of war
Iran is the source of instability and the recent upsurge in fighting in southern and western Afghanistan, said Gen. Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a member of parliament from Helmand Province and a former military operations commander in southern Afghanistan.
"On its territory, Iran has given military training to hundreds of residents of Helmand, Herat, Farah and Ghor provinces to achieve its objectives -- namely, to intensify the flames of war and to destabilise Afghanistan," he told Salaam Times.