Iran Courts Afghan Business

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 4, 2002 | Go to article overview

Iran Courts Afghan Business


Byline: Borzou Daragahi, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HERAT, Afghanistan - Afghanistan is neither a war zone nor a romantic vision for 25-year-old Iranian Reza Shakeri. It's a land of opportunity.

"There are possibilities here," said the entrepreneur, here on his third business trip in less than a year. "If you're smart, there are ways to make money."

The United States has made it a point to keep Iran out of Afghanistan. It has accused the Islamic republic of fomenting trouble against the interim Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.

"We're not a major player," Elahe Koolahi, a member of the Iranian parliament, said during an interview in Tehran.

But here in Herat, 75 miles from the Iranian border and 233 miles from the major Iranian city of Mashad, increasing numbers of independent Iranian businessmen are making the slow, torturous trek along a battered and mostly unpaved road to buy or sell goods and seek out investment opportunities.

The dusty border transit point at Dogharoun-Islamghaleh - on the road between Mashad and Herat - has come alive with activity since the collapse of the Taliban and the relative stability brought to the country by the Karzai government. Afghan trucks can't enter Iran nor Iranian trucks Afghanistan, so goods must be carried over the border.

There are no official numbers, but as many as 300 trucks a day make the journey, officials said.

That trade is evident in Herat stores and bazaars filled with Iranian candies, toiletries, light bulbs, canned goods, poultry, carpets, building supplies, fabrics and pharmaceuticals.

"I don't think America has the power to stop Iranians," Mr. Koolahi said.

Iran and Afghanistan share a 550-mile border, and linguistic and cultural ties that give Iranians an edge in Afghan trade. Many Afghan-bound goods, including relief supplies, are shipped to the region via the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and driven north to Dogharoun-Islamghaleh. Plans are under way to reopen another border crossing to the south, near the Iranian city of Zabol, allowing easy access to the Kandahar region.

"If that gets going, it will help the people in the south of both countries and further trade possibilities," said Ali Reza Ali-Abadi, deputy consul at the massive Iranian compound here. …

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