From Afghanistan, Israel should extend olive branch to Iran

Israel and Afghanistan do not have a diplomatic relationship with each other. That should not prevent the two societies from working pragmatically together.

US, Taliban and Qatari officials during a meeting for peace talks in Doha. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US, Taliban and Qatari officials during a meeting for peace talks in Doha.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The names of Afghanistan and Israel are intrinsically attached to any discourse that pertains to the security in the Middle East and the world at large. Ill-wishing neighbors and their own decade-long struggle for survival make the two countries identical to one other. While their pains and suffering are the same, as nations at conflict, they do not have channels for exchange of experiences and advising remedies, extracted from those experiences, to each other. It is time for the two nations to break the taboos and help each other attain security and peace, for their people. Israeli institutions are in better position to take the first and the most important step in building pragmatic relationships between the two conflict-affected nations.
Israel and Afghanistan do not have a diplomatic relationship with each other. That should not prevent the two societies from working pragmatically together. Afghans regard Israeli people to be revered and chosen; as referred to them in the Quran. Nobody has more accurately captured the magnitude of reverence by Afghans to the nation of Israel than the legendary Khaled Hosseini in his novel The Kite Runner, in which an Afghan man admires firmness and consistency, the two prominent national characteristics of the Israelis; qualities according to the same imaginary man, only Afghans, Americans and Israelis enjoy in the entire world. It falls on Israeli civil society groups and other social institutions such as academic centers and religious foundations to take lead in connecting the two nations. For example, an invitation from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to members of the Taliban political office in Qatar and representative of other Afghan parties to hold their meetings at the al-Aqsa Mosque will be welcomed by all parties. The Taliban have been negotiating with the Americans for almost a year with a hope to put an end to the Afghan war, the longest war in the history of the United States. The next phase of negotiations, which is expected to commence in the near future, will include official talks between the Taliban, the Afghan government and representatives of political parties and members from the civil societies. Israeli institutions can contribute expediting reconciliation process between Afghans.
The visit will open a new chapter in relationship between Israel and Afghanistan and Israel with other Muslim countries. It will send a strong message to all nations that Israel values peace and security not only for itself but for all nations, including the Muslim nations. Israel can work with countries like India and Jordan to arrange visa and travel facilities for the Afghan visitors. India and Jordan, for example, can issue visas to Afghan delegates with a special code which will make them eligible for travel to Israel. The symbolic visit will make people all around the world admire Israel for facilitating negotiations between warring sides in Afghanistan; an achievement major Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia have come short to score for themselves.
Israel can further contribute in institutionalizing and underpinning peace in Afghanistan by using its soft power of lobbying and mediation for improving the welfare of Afghans. The country can help Afghanistan to attain a Sanctions Filter Zone (SFZ) status from the United States’ economic sanctions on Iran. That will contribute phenomenally in turning Afghanistan into an economic hub for the entire region, because any firm or institution involved in building a gas pipeline from South Pars gas field to Urumqi, for example, will be exempted from American sanctions because that pipeline passes through the territory of Afghanistan. Sanctions are foreign policy tools that are usually applied to punish and inject pain within certain polities. They can be used, given that Israel and Afghanistan succeed in their mission, to convince the government of the United States to render SFZ status to Afghanistan, to reward and inject prosperity to a friendly nation. Afghanistan has a long border with Iran and a relatively very short border with the Xinjiang province of China. Unlike the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, which passes through disputed territories in Kashmir, an energy corridor from Iran via Afghanistan to China, which could be extended to India, will serve as the most confident inland route for India, in addition to China, to connect with oil and gas reserves in the Middle East and Central Asia. Though the construction work might be more difficult and more expensive, the energy security that can be attained by China, and more so by India, more than makes up for the expenses.
Iran learned the hard way that having a failed and collapsed state in its neighborhood is dangerous, even worse than having a hostile neighbor, consequent to its experience with Saddam Hussein’s hostile regime in the 1980s – and collapse of that regime in 2003. Israel does not need to try that same experience for itself. Israel can use its influence over American policy making institutions to not push the Iranian state too much, as a result of which it could collapse. Iran has effectively blocked flow of terrorist groups from central Asia and Caucasus as well as South Asia to the Middle East. Though the Islamic regime has recruited and deployed its own proxies – such as the Fatemiyoun Army – to the war in Syria in support of Bashar Assad’s regime.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran has been a product of domestic historical socioeconomic and political developments. Any disruption to its life-cycle, through insertion of pressure from without, will have negative consequences for Iran and the entire region. Iranians are among the most pragmatic, highly educated and politically vigilant and aware people in the world. Their right to choose the best form of regime and course of policies, serving their needs and wants, need to be respected by other members in the society of nations. Iranians have raised their voices against mismanagement of their public goods in the past and definitely will do so in future.
Israel can use the holiest sites in its territory, soft power of mediation and lobbying and the sharing of its knowledge to conduct and successfully conclude peace talks that can help Afghanistan to attain peace, security and prosperity for its citizens. In addition, Israel can extend its olive branch and bucket of roses to Iran by discouraging the United States from seeking regime change in Tehran and by helping Afghanistan to attain SFZ status. The SFZ status of Afghanistan will lessen pain in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Furthermore, Israel will present its image as a peaceful nation to the entire world, particularly to Muslim countries. It will also pave way to develop a friendly and conducive environment for Israeli businesses and industries in the entire region. We should keep hopes alive that Afghan groups, now in conflict with one another, might soon host peace and reconciliation talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Kandahar and Kabul.
The writer is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship from the US State Department. He is an alumnus of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University and former Afghanistan correspondent of Agence France Press (AFP).