Ahmadzai’s Special Look at Non-Neighboring Countries

28 October 2014 | 13:04 Code : 1940135 Interview General category
An interview with Mohammad Reza Forghani, a former Iranian ambassador and expert on Afghan affairs
Ahmadzai’s Special Look at Non-Neighboring Countries

Although Ahmadzai had stated that his first state visit would be to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj ceremonies, his first official meeting was with Erdogan, the Turkish President, in Afghanistan. It seems that Iran has not yet been placed in the circle of his official meetings. What is the reason for this approach?

Almost as an unwritten tradition in Afghanistan, the President of this country has chosen Saudi Arabia to be the destination of his first official visit. The reason was stated as being the performance of the Hajj ceremonies. Those who came to power in Afghanistan before took this measure. Of course, some other countries including Pakistan have also taken the same step and it is not a new issue. But the point is that considering Ahmadzai’s emphasis on his positions based on relations with the country’s neighbors, his first official meeting was with the President of Turkey which is not a neighboring country. At the same time, his first official visit is going to be to Saudi Arabia which is also a non-neighboring country. This issue shows that Ahmadzai’s priorities in foreign policy are his country’s relations with countries beyond its neighbors; contrary to his positions in the presidential campaigns which prioritized relations with neighboring countries. The other reason is to remove religious accusations made against him by the Afghan society. Some people in Afghanistan believe that he has no tendency towards Islam and religion and even his marriage to a Lebanese Christian has been viewed as him changing his religion. Therefore, Ahmadzai could change this view by performing the Hajj ceremonies. Although he was expected to choose Pakistan as his first official visit because it is an important neighboring country, he decided to visit Saudi Arabia. We must wait for his future measures in Afghanistan’s foreign relations.

What is the status of Saudi Arabia in the foreign policy of Afghanistan and what role does this country play in this country’s domestic situation?

Saudi Arabia is one of the major countries in Afghan developments during the past three to four decades. This presence, whether during the Jihad period as a supporter of the Mujahideen, especially with vast financial supports to the Jihadi groups against the communist regime and the Soviet forces, or after the downfall of the communist regime and with the coming to power of the Taliban, has made Saudi Arabia one of the active countries of the region in Afghanistan’s developments. Saudi Arabia has managed the relations between the Jihadi groups before Taliban’s presence and the downfall of the Mujahideen government. Right now, many groups which are affiliated to Saudi Arabia are present in Afghanistan and this country’s financial support of some political groups, particularly the radical Sunni groups including the Taliban and al-Qaeda, continues. This issue has brought accusations against Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, there are also certain groups in Afghanistan under the Arab-Afghan name. Many experts believe that the roots of groups like ISIS in the Middle East which are active in Syria and Iraq with Saudi financial support are in Afghanistan and they have been born in this country.

It seems that Ahamdzai’s approach in foreign policy is to play a regional mediatory role between some countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Does Afghanistan have the capacity to play this role?

Afghanistan is not in a level to play a role in the foreign policy developments of other countries, whether neighbors or extra-regional countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This country is now faced with numerous domestic political, economic and security problems. Thus, it seems impossible that it would be interested in taking such measures in diplomacy and affecting the relations between other countries. But it should be pointed out that the developments in Afghanistan, whether in regional or international dimensions, have always been important and are sensitive in the region and the world. For example, some of the European, Asian and even African countries, which do not even have an active foreign policy, follow the developments in Afghanistan and attempt to understand the policies of this country. That is why, even though Afghanistan does not have the necessary capability by itself to take such measures, it can be said that, due to the special view of other countries towards Afghanistan and its policies, the measures taken in its foreign policy would be considered.

Could the measures taken by Afghanistan be viewed as its foreign policy ambitions and if that is the case, would these ambitions help in resolving the domestic challenges of this country?

I believe that if Ahmadzai pursues such ambitions, he will not completely succeed because Afghanistan is under very sensitive conditions and is faced with numerous political, economic and security problems. If Ahmadzai succeeds in resolving the present problems of this country, it could perhaps be said that he has been able to resolve the crises with the foreign policy card.

tags: Afghanistan saudi arabia ahmadzai turkey

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