HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP): For the second time this month, Iran has come under scrutiny after Afghan security forces recovered a shipment of weapons destined for Taliban insurgents that came from across the border.
The latest discovery occurred on Saturday when Afghan authorities said they found about 40 Iranian- and Chinese-made mines and rocket-propelled-grenades in a vehicle abandoned by Taliban rebels in Herat province near the border.
Some of the rockets shown to reporters carried Iran's coat of arms.
Two weeks earlier, NATO soldiers deployed in Afghanistan seized in Farah province, also on the border, a significant convoy of explosives that came from the Islamic republic and also was apparently destined for the hardliners.
“We do not have problems with Turkmenistan — all the trouble comes through Iran,” the deputy chief of border police for western Afghanistan, Samowal Hamidullah, told AFP in the western city of Herat.
“There are many illegal crossings between the two sides,” said Hamidullah, who monitors about 20 border posts between Afghanistan and the two countries.
US officials allege that Tehran is supporting the Taliban in their bloody rebellion against the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and the 50,000 foreign soldiers backing him, most of whom are American.
Iran denies the charge and many Afghan officials also say there is no proof Tehran is directly involved, with Washington irked by Karzai's insistence that Iran is a good neighbour.
The 928-kilometre (575-mile) border between Iran and Afghanistan is porous and difficult to patrol. It is relatively easy for traffickers moving through the semi-desert of plains and hills to avoid detection.
All kinds of items smuggled over the border have been seized, including arms and drugs — especially opium, which is being produced at record levels in Afghanistan.
Afghan intelligence services say the weekend's haul of arms is definitely from Iran, but they don't know “if it is Tehran which helps,” Hamidullah said.
When asked who might have despatched the convoy found in early September, the top commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, US General Dan McNeill, remained cautious.
“The geographic origin of that convoy was clearly Iran but take note that I did not say it's the Iranian government,” he told AFP in a recent interview.
Najeeb Ur Rahman Manalai from the Centre for Conflict Studies and Peace in Kabul agreed.
“There is no clear proof that the Iranian government is behind these arms discoveries,” he said. “They could even come from anti-Iranian insurgent groups in Iran.”
The governor of Herat province, Hossein Anvari, also said he doubted direct Iranian involvement.
“We do not have any proof that weapons come from the government of Iran into Afghanistan,” he told AFP.
This is the position of Karzai, who wants to keep good relations with Iran while ties with his other neighbour, Pakistan, are already strained.
Under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, toppled in an invasion led by the United States, Shiite Iran supported the Northern Alliance as it opposed the Sunni Wahhabist Taliban.
But US officials say Tehran has changed this stance because it wants to destabilise Afghanistan to get at Kabul's principal ally, the United States, perhaps as a response to repeated US threats about its nuclear programme.