Iraq isn’t the only place where America and Iran are fast becoming best frenemies. “When it comes to Afghanistan,” Michael Kugelman argues, “Tehran and Washington tend to see eye to eye on many core issues, including the Taliban”:
There’s good reason to believe that Tehran wants a stable Afghanistan. Greater instability would intensify narcotics trafficking. Additionally, it would lead to further influxes of Afghan refugees (only Pakistan has more). In recent years, these immigrants have been increasingly unwelcome in Iran, and many have been deported. Tehran also likely worries that a deteriorating Afghan security environment would embolden anti-Shia forces, including the Pakistani organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, whose commanders vow to march into Afghanistan when international troops depart. Though Iran publicly opposes any U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in private it would probably happily accept the presence of a residual post-2014 force.
Tehran also shares the U.S. objective of an Afghanistan that is more integrated with South and Central Asia. Iran has pursued rail, pipeline, and trade projects meant to better link Central Asian states. It is also cooperating with India on the construction of a port that would facilitate more Indian trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia (the Chabahar port would enable India to bypass longer routes through Pakistan). These efforts dovetail with Washington’s “New Silk Road” initiative, which aims to develop regional energy markets in South and Central Asia and more broadly to boost cross-border trade and transit across these regions. However, U.S. sanctions on Iran have prevented Tehran from obtaining international financing for some of its projects. Phasing out these sanctions — a possible upshot of improved bilateral relations — could bring in more financing, and allow regional integration initiatives to truly take off.