Iran and the Taliban: A relationship seldom discussed

Now, Iran is openly being accused by Afghan authorities of supporting Taliban insur­gency with cash and weapons.

2017/02/05 Issue: 92 Page: 17

The Arab Weekly
Mustafa Salama

In the past few years, Iran has become a significant player in the Middle East that cannot be ignored. What has seldom been mentioned is what it does across its eastern border in Afghanistan.

A late December meeting among officials from Russia, China and Pakistan to discuss the future of Afghanistan took place in Moscow. Participants issued a statement expressing the need for flexibility in dealing with the Taliban to reach a peaceful solution to the conflicts in the country. In return, the Taliban political office in Qatar condoned the talks as they recognised the Taliban’s “political and military force” in Afghanistan.

Russia has been actively cultivating relations with the Taliban and pushed for the trilateral initiative. Iran has also been working on strengthening ties over the past few years.

In mid-2015 it was reported that a delegation from the Taliban’s political office visited Tehran. Last May, Mullah Akhtar Man­sour, the previous head of the Taliban, was killed in a drone strike after his return from Iran.

Now, Iran is openly being accused by Afghan authorities of supporting the Taliban insur­gency with cash and weapons. The governor of Afghanistan’s Farah province said 25 recently killed insurgents in the province had been members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an important part of the Iranian armed forces.

“Iran not only has hosted Taliban families, it has supplied the group with weapons that could target and damage tanks and planes,” Afghan lawmaker Jumadin Gayanwal from south-eastern Paktika province told the Voice of America (VOA) in Decem­ber.

“More new faces are seen these days coming from Afghanistan,” Jamaluddin, an Afghan in Taybad, an Iranian city close to the border with Afghanistan, told VOA. “They are barely seen in public places as they try to keep themselves away from other Afghans. Some Afghans say they are Taliban members.”

Unsurprisingly the Afghan Senate announced that it would investigate the “worrisome” relations between the Taliban with Russia and Iran.

Whatever the investigation reveals, it should be noted that the closer Iranian-Taliban relations come at a time when the new US administration has exposed extreme belligerence to Iran.

US President Donald Trump has frequently referred to the nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States and other world powers as the “worst deal ever” in which “everything is on the table” (including military action) on how to retaliate. Trump has appointed K.T. McFarland as his deputy national security adviser. She has called for regime change in Iran through creating internal instability and security problems in the country.

Iran has obviously entrenched itself more in its surroundings and secured a better political position, especially as the United States plans a longer stay in Afghanistan.

Iran’s open channels and support for the Taliban is a matter of national security. The Taliban was probably going to use the porous borders with Iran and engage in activities that are at least worrisome to Iran.

Having the Taliban operate under the nose of Tehran would guarantee that it does not violate Iran’s security. Should the Trump administration really consider pressuring Iran, it knows it may have to face more trouble in Afghanistan.

Mustafa Salama is a political consultant and analyst with extensive academic background in Middle East affairs.

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