New York Times:
The rise of Hezbollah, with Iran’s support, has demonstrated the extent of Tehran’s sway in Lebanon, and the American toppling of Saddam Hussein has allowed it to expand its influence in Iraq. Iran has been making inroads into Afghanistan, as well. During the tumultuous 1980s and ‘90s, Iran shipped money and arms to groups fighting first the Soviet occupation and later the Taliban government. But since the United States and its allies ousted the Taliban in 2001, Iran has taken advantage of the central government’s weakness to pursue a more nuanced strategy: part reconstruction, part education and part propaganda.
Iran has distributed its largess, more than $200 million in all, mostly ... in the west but also in the capital, Kabul. It has set up border posts against the heroin trade, and next year will begin work on new road and construction projects and a rail line linking the countries. In Kabul, its projects include a new medical center and a water testing laboratory.
Iran’s ambassador, Muhammad Reza Bahrami, portrayed his government’s activities as neighborly good works, with a certain self-interest. Iran, he said, is eager to avoid repeating the calamities of the last 20 years, when two million Afghan refugees streamed over the border.
“Our strategy in Afghanistan is based on security, stability and developing a strong central government,” he said. “It not only benefits the Afghan people, it’s in our national interest.”
Still, there are indications of other motives. Iranian radio stations are broadcasting anti-American propaganda into Afghanistan. Moderate Shiite leaders in Afghanistan say Tehran is funneling money to conservative Shiite religious schools and former warlords with longstanding ties to Iranian intelligence agencies.