Right next to the Islamic center is an old mosque, currently being renovated with the help of Iran. Once completed, it will have capacity for more than 8000 people.
Not far from the Shia center is Taqi-e-Abul Fazl library, one of the biggest in Herat. The majority of the books on display have come from Iran and narrate Iranian folk tales and stories about the Islamic movement. Very little literature about Afghanistan’s history and way of life is available. Some bookshelves display jihadi materials and have books on holy war.
The influence of Iran is also visible in the marketplace, where the majority of goods are Iranian-made. Some of the shopkeepers seem less than happy with the growing tentacles of their western neighbor.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
“Iran is destroying our culture and imposing its narrow interpretation of Islam on us. We are Afghans and want to preserve our way of life,” says one shopkeeper in Khurasan market. This anger is shared by many on the streets of Herat.
“Besides Pakistan, Iran is the most disruptive element in Afghanistan. It wants to control us, which is not good, and the problem is that the Afghan government cannot act against its neighbor,” says a vegetable seller.
Recently, there have been several reports about Afghani concern over Iranian influence, with some experts expressing grave concern about Iran’s increasing penetration of Afghan society, and its use of Afghanistan as a way to strike at Western interests.
Omar Sharifi, director of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies in Kabul, disagrees, arguing that “Iranian influence remains strong among more religiously conservative Shiite groups at best, with nominal to very little influence over other groups. Iran can be a destabilizing element at the local level in the Afghan conflict, but its ability to create a major crisis for Afghan government is shrinking due to Tehran’s isolation at the world level.”
At a conference attended by The Diplomat, Herat Governor Dr. Daud Shah Saba said that, “Iranian influence is because of geography, but yes Afghan forces have captured an arms consignment at the Iranian border and they have also recovered Iranian-made weapons from the hands of the Taliban.”
Iran thus remains an enigma for Afghanistan. But some reports suggest that Tehran is trying to fill the void that will be created by the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2014, and is cultivating closer relations with the Taliban, funding politicians and media outlets.
Meanwhile, Yaghobi has fled Herat, fearing for his life. He hopes to start anew in another country, somewhere he and his family might feel safe from fundamentalist groups.