Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeking to boost Tehran's weight in
Central Asia, met the leaders of Tajikistan and Afghanistan on Wednesday to
forge closer ties among the Persian-speaking states.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in
Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Wednesday, July 26, 2006. Iran has sought closer
ties with the ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia since they gained
independence with the 1991 Soviet collapse.[AP]
But his talks with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and Tajik President Imomali
Rakhmonov, hailed by the three as a new era in their alliance, produced little
substance apart from acknowledging each others' cultural proximity.
"We are united by a common language, culture and religion. It's impossible to
divide us by borders or talk about our differences," he told reporters in the
Tajik capital Dushanbe after talks with Karzai and Rakhmonov.
"There are a number of global threats that unite us. Security in Tajikistan
and Afghanistan increases Iran's security."
Iran is keen to strengthen its position in Central Asia, a former Soviet
region with Muslim traditions, as it faces growing pressure from the West over
its nuclear ambitions.
But it faces tough competition there from the United States, China and Russia
who are all vying for influence in the resource-rich region.
Iran's alliance with Afghanistan, where the government is bolstered by U.S.
troops, is uneasy, while another source of awkwardness is Washington's warm ties
with ex-Soviet Tajikistan, a key partner in its operations in neighbouring
The three carefully avoided geopolitical tensions in their talks in Dushanbe,
stressing security and trade as a key element in their alliance.
"Afghanistan believes that it needs cooperation among us for its economic
development," said Karzai. "Our economic stabilisation and security are in the
interests of all the three countries and the region as a whole."
Tajikistan's Rakhmonov, his impoverished country still recovering from a
civil war in the 1990s, proposed building a road linking the three states to
boost trade and develop his country's vast hydroelectricity resources.
Ahmadinejad, speaking at the opening ceremony of an Iran-sponsored tunnel in
Tajikistan, said he felt at home in the fellow Persian-speaking nation whose
national flag is almost identical to that of Iran.
"I look at you and I see Iranians," he told a cheering crowd at the tunnel's
construction site hidden high in the mountains north of Dushanbe.
"We are united by Islam. And the tears of happiness I see in your eyes are
our happiness too."