The Irish Times, December 8, 2010
Iran “spent millions” on influencing Afghan elections
One high-ranking Afghan official said Afghanistan’s western neighbour had “destroyed the elections”
By Ben Farmer in Kabul
IRAN SECRETLY poured millions of euro into the recent Afghan parliamentary elections to stack the lower house with its favoured candidates, senior government officials and diplomats have alleged.
Candidates received slush funds of tens of thousands of euro each to pay campaign expenses or to bribe electoral officials as Tehran sought to install friendly members of parliament it was claimed. The avalanche of funds contributed to a poll widely seen as a corrupt free-for-all where seats were sold for cash or swung by intimidation.
The allegations follow leaked American diplomatic cables detailing what appeared to be dedicated Iranian efforts to control the parliamentary agenda and manipulate debates towards anti-western subjects.
One high-ranking Afghan official said Afghanistan’s western neighbour had “destroyed the elections”. “We are in a very bad neighbourhood,” he told The Irish Times .
“Iran played a very strong role in the elections. They told us they tried to help the government, but in reality they tried to bring in fifth columnists. They were not only paying money, they were corrupting the election officials.
“The election was a disaster. The whole thing has been fraud from start to finish.” The vote cost the international community €110 million. Nato overlooked Iranian influence while focusing on Pakistan’s support and shelter for insurgents, he said. Tehran was playing a “more subtle game” which extended beyond its traditional allies among Afghanistan’s Shia Muslims, he added.
The Iranian embassy in Kabul declined requests for an interview.
A senior diplomat in Kabul said Iran’s influence had been the most potent among several neighbouring countries seeking to promote candidates.
“Iran was the biggest spender,” the diplomat said. “They were spending so much money, they literally went to people with bags of it. Very ordinary candidates they have paid $30,000 and they have paid some lots more. It was going to the north, to the south, to the east even. It had an impact.”
Anger at Tehran’s influence is greatest along the border in western Afghanistan, where several previously little-known candidates in Herat province are rumoured to have won because of Iranian funding.
The province’s Pashtun community has said its own candidates had lost out to Iranian proxies and warned of unrest if its people had no representatives.
“There was a lot of external interfering and most of the people who are now going to parliament are supported by Iran,” said Mirwais Ayubi, an unsuccessful candidate in the province.
Tehran spends millions of euro each year in Afghanistan on cultural and infrastructure projects, leading many western embassies to see its influence as more benign than that of Pakistan.
Elements within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been accused of low-level support for the Taliban insurgency, but Tehran is considered to have no desire to see a haven for Sunni Islamic militants on its doorstep.
Only a third of Afghan members of parliament were successfully re-elected at the September 18th vote and the political complexion of the new house is still unclear.
American worry at Iran’s grip on the previous parliament was disclosed in a secret cable from the US’s Kabul embassy released last week by WikiLeaks.
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