Analysis of Geopolitical Relations between Iran and Afghanistan: Study of Geopolitical Components

Mohsen Janparvar
13 November 2018

In the first part of this report on the geopolitical relations between Iran and Afghanistan, the main stress was put on the need to have a geopolitical approach to shape and promote suitable strategies between the two countries. The question posed here is how a correct, realistic and practicable geopolitical approach can be developed in order to shape geopolitical relations between Iran and Afghanistan. The answer to this question is of high importance, because it helps a purely geopolitical approach to turn into a more profound, a more scientific, and a more comprehensive approach away from exaggeration and ambiguity. The first step for achieving this important goal is to study the geopolitical components in relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan.
In simple words, one can say that these geopolitical components include: “geographical source of power with a minimum value at national level, which is taken advantage of by various actors in local, national, regional and global relations.” Such geopolitical components form the cornerstone of any effort made to shape geopolitical relations between any two countries. For example, Afghanistan’s geographical location provides a good route for India to access Central Asia. Therefore, this position can affect the two countries’ geopolitical relations. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is the origin of such border rivers as Helmand, Harirud and Amu Darya, which is considered a geopolitical component and can affect geopolitical relations of this actor with other actors, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran.
A country’s culture can also act as a geopolitical component. For example, there is a proverb in Afghanistan, which says “He, who gives life, feeds you as well.” This component can have vast effects on Afghanistan’s relations with other actors, including Iran. This is why the study of geopolitical components is of high importance. The better these components are known, the more accurate and more correct will be the geopolitical approaches that are shaped on this basis, and in turn, the ensuing geopolitical relations will be more orderly and more realistic. It must be noted that there are various types of geopolitical components, which include:
A)Natural geopolitical components: They include mathematical position; relative position; marine position; terrestrial position; central position; area; shape, topography; distance from the sea; energy resources such as oil and gas; coal reserves; new energy resources such as uranium; valuable minerals such as iron ore and copper; fresh water resources; biological resources; and so forth.
B)Human geopolitical components: They include quantity of population; quality of population; composition of population; gender composition of population; age composition of population; proportion of resources to a country’s area; strategic position; geopolitical structure of the region; geopolitical structure of the world; the number of neighbors; nature and shape of neighbors; level of relations with neighbors; type and shape of the governing system; the ability to establish relations with other actors; relations and interaction with major powers; and so forth.
C)Combined geopolitical components: They include central position (natural or human); marginal position (natural or human); position as a passage; length of borders; type of borders; shape of borders; level of border relations; existence of transit canals like Suez and Panama canals; the capacity to take advantage of natural and human resources; and so forth;
D)Geopolitical components of artificial nature: They include information, media outlets, food, sports, diplomacy, culture, and so forth.
On the whole, one can say that systematic discussion of geopolitical relations between Iran and Afghanistan on the basis of a geopolitical approach needs preliminary steps and its first step is to recognize geopolitical components of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan.
To study geopolitical components, attention must be paid to recommendations from experts and officials when planning to forge orderly geopolitical relations with Afghanistan. They include:
First recommendation: An effort must be made to fully and comprehensively recognize geopolitical components of the Islamic Republic of Iran away from magnification and exaggeration. On the other hand, geopolitical components of Afghanistan must be also explored without reducing their value or downplaying them. A simple example in this regard is Iran’s transit position for Afghanistan and introducing it as a vital corridor for the country. Of course, Iran’s transit position is very important to Afghanistan, but describing it as “vital” would be exaggeration and take all designed strategies away from the reality. As a result, these strategies would fail to achieve their predetermined goals, because Afghanistan can do transactions through other countries, including Pakistan, as well. The policy that the government of Afghanistan has recently taken to prevent entry of some Iranian goods proves this fact.
Second recommendation: Studying the value of geopolitical components is also important. Geopolitical components are naturally not of equal value. Therefore, they must be valued according to their importance, so that due investment could be made in those components, which are of high value to improve their productivity.
Third recommendation: The factor of “time” must be included in the study of geopolitical components. The importance and position of geopolitical components changes with time. As time goes by, the value of some geopolitical components increases and some of them lose their importance, or their importance is reduced. For example, Iran’s energy resources have been an important geopolitical component for Afghanistan. However, does their value at the present time, when the TAPI pipeline project is in the offing, equal their importance in past decades? Regardless of whether that project is practical or not, the value of these resources has been reduced. Another example is about such border rivers as Helmand and Harirud, whose importance now is more than a few decades ago.
Fourth recommendation: It must be known which geopolitical components are positive or negative. Geopolitical components are such that they can act both in positive and negative ways. For example, when geographical resources are available to an actor and it can take advantage of them, they act in a positive manner and turn into a power source for that actor. However, when geographical resources are controlled by rivals or other actors, or are available to an actor itself, which is not able to use them, they can act negatively and turn into a threat.
Fifth recommendation: A country must have the power to predict and make plans for new and emerging geopolitical components. The natural and human world is constantly changing and ceaselessly moves ahead. This changing trend and such developments provide grounds for dynamism of geopolitical components in various forms. Therefore, a country must be able to predict new and emerging geopolitical components and make plans to achieve them.
In conclusion, it must be noted that studying geopolitical components of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan is of high importance in analyzing and shaping the two countries’ geopolitical relations. Of course, it must be noted that in the first place, this study must not only be comprehensive, but also without exaggeration and magnification. It must also avoid reducing the value of these components. Secondly, since geopolitical components enjoy different values, they must be seen as such and more attention must be paid to those components, which are more important. Thirdly, the importance and value of geopolitical components change in time. Therefore, the factor of time must be included in this study. Fourthly, since geopolitical components can act in positive and negative ways, it is important to know how they would act. Last but not least, a country must be able to predict new and emerging geopolitical components. Observing these points will lead to a realistic approach to these components away from any ambiguity and will help Iran shape suitable and orderly geopolitical relations with Afghanistan.

*Assistant Professor of Political Geography; Ferdowsi University of Mashhad