Feb 15, 2013

Decline of Iran's Soft Power in Afghanistan

Stanford: CREEES seminar: "Iran and the Hazaras of Afghanistan: The Decline of Tehran's Soft Power"

Short synopsis of my talk’s proposed content:

Iran’s influence in Afghanistan is unique in that it has not historically derived from support for militant groups, but instead from “soft power” especially through Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras people.  The Hazaras share language, religion and culture with Iran, and constitute approximately 10-15 percent of the Afghan population. Over the last four years, Iran has accelerated its soft power efforts through Hazaras by investing in construction projects, increasing trade and promoting its ideology. Iran has also engaged in cultural exchange programs and provided humanitarian aid and scholarships.  Books, DVDs and pamphlets promoting anti-Zionist and anti-American sentiments have been distributed to Hazara communities.

Despite investing significant resources in these efforts, Iran has not achieved the influence in Afghanistan it hoped for. The Hazara minority group, which has faced long-term persecution in Afghanistan, has proven more concerned with the fear that the Taliban regime will return than it is with Iranian interests. Hazaras therefore tend to support the U.S. troop presence rather than Iran. Other factors like the rise of Hazara nationalism and bitterness about the treatment of Hazara refugees in Iran have also served to mitigate Iran’s traditional soft power efforts.  

Given the waning influence of Iranian soft power in the Hazara ethnic minority, we are now beginning to see evidence of an Iranian trend towards the “hard power.”  “Hard power” activities range from arming, financing and training the Taliban to allowing the Taliban to open an office in Iran.  Iran has also been instrumental in training individuals for roadside bombing attacks, and giving money to Afghan politicians to exert its anti-U.S. influence in Afghanistan. 

Friday, February 15, 2013. 12:00 PM.
Approximate duration of 1.50 hour(s).
CISAC Conference Room, Encina Hall Central (2nd floor)
CREEES Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies at Stanford


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