ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Afghanistan's frigid winter has been made colder by Iran and a bit of unneighborly behavior. For a month now, most fuel trucks bound for Afghanistan through Iran have been stopped at the border. As a result, gasoline and heating fuel prices have spiked. Iran claims it's trying to stop fuel heading for U.S.- led NATO forces, though the U.S. denies that any of it is.
NPR: anti-Iranian protests in Kabul, as well as a rare protest in support of the United States.
QUIL LAWRENCE: It was a fitting symbol for a protest against rising fuel prices. Scores of young Afghans riding bicycles assembled recently outside the Iranian Embassy in downtown Kabul. They carried a banner reading: Life without oil is possible. Life without honor is not.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
LAWRENCE: One man in the crowd shouted out the names of Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan, Iran's president and Iran's supreme leader, to which the throng replied: Death.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
LAWRENCE: It's not just that the price of heating oil and gas is up 50 percent, knock-on effects are driving up the prices of anything that needs to be transported by truck. In Afghanistan, that's just about everything. Lines have been long outside gas stations like this one in Kabul. And station manager, Ghulam Sakhi, says some taxi drivers and truckers are wondering if they can afford to work at all with prices so high.
GHULAM SAKHI: (Speaking foreign language)
LAWRENCE: About half of Afghanistan's domestic fuel comes through Iran, according to the Afghan Commerce Minister, the first government official to publicly criticize Iran's actions.
ANWARUL HAQ AHADY: (Speaking foreign language)
LAWRENCE: We are not satisfied with the negotiations over this issue, said commerce minister Anwarul Haq Ahady. Iran had promised to end the embargo after a recent visit from the Afghan vice president, said Ahady. But the promise was broken, he added, and with no good reason given for the blockade in the first place. On the international level, reasons are easier to see.
HAROUN MIR: In the past, this is not new. Iranians have also used Afghanistan to leverage.
LAWRENCE: Haroun Mir, a political analyst in Kabul, says that Iran is trying to show the U.S. that it has influence over the success of the American project in Afghanistan, as a warning against any U.S. strike on Iran. He also cites domestic reasons inside Iran. The U.S. has led efforts to squeeze Iran's economy with sanctions, and Iran is currently pushing through its own painful economic reforms, cutting the national subsidy on fuel. For Tehran, hoarding fuel may help ease the stress of both. Also, says Mir, Afghanistan's neighbors all want their interests to be considered in any peace negotiations with the Taliban.
MIR: All these countries have a lot of stakes in Afghanistan, and they don't want to be ignored in case of a political settlement. And these are warnings that Iranians are sending to the Afghan government and also to the United States.
LAWRENCE: But Afghan people feel caught between, says Fardeen Hashimy, one of the bicycle-riding protesters.
FARDEEN HASHIMY: (Speaking foreign language)
LAWRENCE: Iran is allied with government elites in Afghanistan, says Hashimy, perhaps referring to some of the former warlords inside the Kabul government who, in the past, were sheltered and armed by Iran. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also admitted to receiving literal bags full of cash from the Iranian government. Hashimy says that Iran and some in the Afghan government are dismayed at the sight of peaceful protesters like him. But given a choice between Iranian influence and the Americans, says Hashimy, he'll take the U.S.
(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)
LAWRENCE: Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.
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