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Viewing cable 09KABUL495, IRANIAN INFLUENCE AT PARLIAMENT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09KABUL495 2009-03-03 12:12 2010-12-02 21:09 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Kabul
VZCZCXYZ0004
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBUL #0495/01 0621208
ZNY SSSSS ZZH (CCY AD38C2C4 MSI2519-695)
P 031208Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7606
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
S E C R E T KABUL 000495 

NOFORN 
SIPDIS 

C O R R E C T E D COPY CAPTION 
EO 12958 DECL: 03/04/2019 
TAGS PREL, PGOV, AF, IR 
SUBJECT: IRANIAN INFLUENCE AT PARLIAMENT 

Classified By: CDA Christopher Dell for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. Iranian government officials routinely encourage Parliament to support anti-Coalition policies and to raise anti-American talking points during debates. Pro-Western MPs say colleagues with close Iranian contacts accept money or political support to promote Iran’s political agenda. Some staff members believe Iranian intelligence officials have infiltrated the Parliament’s legal and information technology support offices, compromising the professional staff’s legal advice and the legislature’s electronic communications. Allegations are difficult to verify and may be inspired more by conspiracy theories and inter-ethnic rivalries than actual facts. However, the number of MPs willing to tell us of first-hand encounters with Iranian agents appears to confirm a dedicated effort by Iran to influence Afghan attitudes toward Coalition forces and other issues. End Summary.

Iranian Embassy Relations with Parliament
----------- 

2. (S/NF) Iranian Embassy officials exploit contacts with a number of Afghan politicians to influence Parliament’s agenda. Many MPs accuse Hazaras, who like Iran’s leaders are mostly Shia Muslims, of having the closest ties with Iran. Moderate Hazaras insist Iranian outreach influences only conservative Hazaras, many of whom received religious educations or lived in Iran while in exile. MPs single out Sayed Hussein Alemi Balkhi (Kabul), Ahmad Ali Jebraili (Herat), and Ustad Mohammad Akbari (Bamyan) as the Hazara MPs who receive the most support from Iran. The Iranian Embassy has also cultivated deep relations with members of opposition groups (including the United Front), Tajik Sayeds, and MPs from Herat and other western provinces.

3. (S/NF) Iranian Embassy officers frequently visit Parliament, but rarely sit in the public gallery and usually avoid high-traffic morning hours, according to Parliament watchers. After Iranian-influence allegations exploded a few years ago, the Iranian Embassy began hosting MPs more often at off-site meetings, where other MPs suspect payments are delivered in exchange for commitments to advocate Iranian policies.

4. (S/NF) According to several contacts, Iran’s top policy goals in Parliament are: increasing criticism of civilian casualty incidents caused by Coalition forces, encouraging the Afghan Parliament to “legalize” foreign forces, advocating rights for Shia (including a separate judicial system), promoting “Persian culture,” and limiting Western support to Afghan media. These subjects often dominate parliamentary debates, even when not on the official agenda.

Iranian Official Hands Over Talking Points to Deputy Speaker
----------- 

5. (S/NF) Lower House Deputy Speaker Mirwais Yaseni (Nangarhar, Pashtun) told PolOff an Iranian intelligence officer visited his office in mid-February, coinciding with the visit of Iran’s vice president to Kabul, to pressure him to allow a debate on the status of Coalition forces that would push other scheduled items from the 2/17 agenda (Speaker Yunus Qanooni was out of town, leaving Yaseni to chair the session). The intelligence officer offered to provide “support” to Yaseni if he cooperated. Yaseni declined, only to face the wrath of MPs Balkhi and Akbari, who raised the issue during debate on another item. When Yaseni suggested the MPs wait for a better time to discuss foreign forces, Balkhi accused the deputy speaker of “betraying his country” and being a Western puppet. Yaseni said Balkhi’s and Akbari’s remarks were identical to the talking points provided to him by the Iranian official earlier that day.

6. (S/NF) Other MPs have described similar interactions with Iranians they believe to be embassy-based intelligence officers. Some believe Iranian officers work in conjunction with Karzai’s Palace staff to stir up heated reactions from MPs following civilian casualty incidents. Pro-Western MPs worry that Iran exploits such incidents to decrease public support for Coalition troop presence. The Iranian Embassy plays a lower-key role on social issues, paying MPs to support Persian cultural programs and oppose Western countries’ support to local media. Despite Iran’s ambitious lobbying efforts, there are limits to MPs’ willingness to toe the Iranian line. A Lower House debate last November on water rights quickly struck a nationalistic tone, with several MPs accusing Iran of “stealing Afghanistan’s water.” No MP spoke up to disagree.

Suspicions With Staff, Too
---------- 

7. (S/NF) Parliamentary staffers believe the Iranian Embassy has planted moles in Parliament’s legal and information technology offices. An employee in the Lower House’s legal affairs and research office told PolOff last fall that his new supervisor was editing the staffer’s responses to questions from MPs to reflect Iran-friendly interpretations of Afghan law. Lower House Secretary General Gulam Hassan Gran has repeatedly complained to PolOff that most IT staffers have been trained in Iran and pass electronic communications to the Iranian Embassy. As a result, Gran and other Pashtun staff refuse to use Parliament’s email system. Gran’s deputy keeps a list of MPs who criticize the U.S. and analyzes trends in anti-U.S. rhetoric.

Comment
---------- 

8. (S/NF) If Iranian efforts to influence MPs are as dedicated as some believe, it means the Iranian government has successfully identified and exploited Parliament’s greatest strength: the bully pulpit. The four-year-old Parliament has often struggled to find its role and usually comes out on the losing end in battles with the judicial and executive branches. Still, MPs have been quick learners when it comes to using the media to draw attention to their causes, even if their views are at times incoherent or serve no other purpose than to bad-mouth the government or political rivals. Iran has deftly taken note, forgoing attempts to influence actual legislation and instead exploiting MPs’ proclivity for media coverage. By strong-arming MPs to incorporate Iranian talking points into their public statements, Iran has opened a potential channel to influence public and elite opinion against U.S. goals and policies for Afghanistan. At a minimum, Iranian interference has helped keep Parliament bogged down in unproductive debates and away from more pressing matters. DELL