Afghan and Iranian presidents Hamid Karzai and Hassan Rouhani discussed bilateral relations between the two countries in a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. According to the reports, both Afghan and Iranian presidents discussed Afghanistan’s peace process, Bilateral Security Agreement with the US and status and conditions of the Afghan migrants in Iran. A newsletter from the president’s office said that, in the meeting, Rouhani voiced support to the Afghan peace process, saying that peace in Afghanistan would be in interests of Iran’s stability.
Regional cooperation and partnership with regional countries is a key foreign policy issue for Afghanistan as the US-led NATO forces withdraw from the country by end of 2014. Iran is one of the neighboring countries that have had warm relations with Afghanistan during past decade and Tehran has provided Afghanistan with millions of aid assistance in development projects and reconstruction. Iran had close ties with Afghanistan during presidency of former Iranian president Mahmood Ahmadinejad despite Iran’s deep skepticisms to US military presence in Afghanistan. Although Kabul and Tehran had been close in past decade, time and again the US accused Iran of supporting some insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
As the NATO is withdrawing the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan and Kabul and Washington engaged in talks for signing a long-term security agreement, the prospect of future relations of the two countries are under spotlight. The talks between Afghanistan and the US on the BSA are a sensitive issue for Tehran and for many times Iranian officials have expressed their grievances from US presence in Afghanistan. As regional crises in the Middle East make the role of Iran and the US in regional politics more complicated, Afghanistan finds itself in a difficult position to balance between maintaining relations with both Washington and Tehran. However, coming a moderate president to power in Tehran was good news for Kabul as the new Iranian government would have the tendency to engage with the West both over its nuclear programs and other regional issues.
On the hand, migration and presence of hundreds of thousands of Afghans in Iran has remained a thorny issue in Afghanistan-Iran relations. Afghanistan is closely watching what the new government does with Afghan migrants after they were warned of being deported forcedly. In the meeting in Bishkek, Afghan president Hamid Karzai asked his counterpart to show leniency to the Afghan migrants in the country. The issue of Afghan refugees residing in Iran is only one of the issues that the two capitals need to work on for sustainable and cooperative future relations between the two countries.