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The Tortured Face of Iran-Afghan Relations


25 Jan 2011 13:59Comments

A heinous attack, an ugly investigation.

[ comment ] Since the brutal attack on prominent Afghan journalist Razaq Mamoon five days ago, little has come out of the hunt for the perpetrator who splashed acid on his face. However, that is only my personal take on the matter. The Afghan police think otherwise. They have a suspect and he has not only confessed to being the attacker, he has also put the blame on henchmen he describes as Iranian agents for forcing him to make the attack.

The first official photo of the suspect released by Afghan police and published by Pajhwok News Agency tells a different story. As bloody as Mamoon's face was after the attack, the suspect also looks quite worthy of sympathy. He too has clearly been attacked, but in this case, it doesn't look like it was the work of Iranian agents, but rather of the experienced policemen who extracted the confession from him. Afghan police claim that they have not found a connection between any foreign government and the alleged attacker, but have confiscated material -- including acid -- from his possession.

Meanwhile the suspect, Khwaja Abdul Rafi, who works at the occupying coalition's Camp Eggers in Kabul, claims that he was coerced into attacking Mamoon by three men, one of whom he claims was speaking Persian with an Iranian accent. He claims the men confronted him several times and told him that if he didn't attack Mamoon, they'd cut off his children's heads. But given the fact that the brutal torture methods of Afghan police can make a crow confess to being a parrot, it cannot be said with any certainty that the man they have in custody is indeed the attacker.

So far as facts are concerned, nothing has really come out of the confession or the rest of the police investigation to pin the blame on Iran. Even Mamoon's statement charging the Islamic Republic with responsibility for the attack goes only so far when no real evidence is present. Though an attack on him does seem to have been imminent.

While trying to procure a copy of his latest book, which takes a critical look at Iran's involvement in destabilizing Afghanistan, several friends in the media and the Afghan government told me rather discomfiting things. A longtime friend who is a freelance photographer in Kabul said he had been fearing that Mamoon would be attacked, but was nonetheless shocked.

Another friend, who holds a high-ranking consulting position in the Afghan government, was more blunt. "He did it to himself," he said. "He doesn't realize that he lives in Afghanistan. He thinks that, somehow, he is immune to attacks by the government, by warlords, by drug traffickers, and lastly, by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan." He went on to blame Mamoon's own bravery for the attack.

But beside Mamoon's speculative statements and the alleged attacker's dubious confession, there are other reasons to believe Iran might not be innocent at all. There have been threats against the publisher of Mamoon's book. And then there's Iran's involvement in other suspicious activities against individuals outside its borders.

The most high-profile of these cases is that of the three American hikers who supposedly trespassed into Iran in 2009 from Iraq and were arrested by Iranian authorities. A strong case has been made that they were in fact abducted by Iranian security forces who crossed over the border. There are also the various threats that have been made against Iranians in other countries who have dared to criticize the government of the Islamic Republic.

In the face of all this, it is hard not to believe that there is truth to the intimations of Iranian involvement in the attack on Mamoon. But the crude investigative methods employed by Afghan police might end up harming the case against Iran instead of helping it.

In the meantime, Mamoon is undergoing treatment for his injuries in India -- paid for by the Afghan government. My efforts to get a copy of his book have so far been futile. If there are more updates that are truly informative, we'll have another piece.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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