AFGHANISTAN, IRAN: Pressure mounts in row over fuel shipments
As the deadlock between Iran and Afghanistan over fuel imports enters its second month, pressure is mounting in Kabul to sever economic relations with Iran unless it eases its clampdown on fuel tankers attempting to cross into the country.
Iran claims it is holding up the shipments as it investigates reports that the fuel crossing its border is used by North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops fighting in Afghanistan, a claim Kabul denies.
Afghanistan is upset over the blocked shipments, which has led to skyrocketing energy prices across Afghanistan.
Some have pointed out that the clampdown coincided with the Afghan president signing the agreement to build the American-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, otherwise known as TAPI, of which Iran was left out.
Afghanistan relies on Iran to allow between 30% and 40% of its fuel to cross overland.
The Afghan National Labor Union held a protest Monday outside the Iranian embassy in Kabul in response to Iran's clampdown on fuel imports. And the Afghan Chamber of Commerce has warned its members will cut ties to Iran if the fuel situation is not resolved.
"We will wait for another week and if the Iranian government does not take a decision on this, we will take practical action on the four issues we proposed," Mohammad Qorban Haqju, the managing director of Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said during a press conference in Kabul on Monday.
The Chamber also accuses Iran of forcefully unloading oil from hundreds of Afghan tankers into its own reserves along the border.
Iran has poured fuel on the fire (so to speak) with moves deemed uncouth by the Afghans. On Tuesday, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press agency reported that Iran had deported 42 Afghans. Afghan official Khairuddin Aslami told Afghan Islamic Press that several of the detainees had been chained by the hands and feet and were in bad condition.
"Iran should not expel Afghans in winter weather and in this inhuman way," he was reported as saying.
India and Pakistan had previously signed an agreement with Iran to build the "pipeline for peace," but the project appears to have crumbled under pressure from the United States and trouble attracting investment due to Iran's involvement. TAPI has the support of the Asian Development Bank, although some have questioned the security of the proposed route, which will run through war-ravaged parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: An Afghan demonstrator outside the Iran embassy on Monday protesting Iran's blocking of thousands of fuel trucks at the border with Afghanistan. Credit: Musadeq Sadeq /Associated Press