By: Mohammad Javad Mousavizadeh
While the Taliban swept all of Afghanistan, analysts have little clue of Iranian officials’ concern about the collapse of Iran’s next door.
As an extremist group, the Taliban has never been a danger for Iran in recent years, and the Islamic Republic’s view of the Taliban has changed from a threat to an opportunity with a common aim, withdrawal of United States armed forces from Afghanistan.
After the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by the Trump administration, The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced that Iran is seeking the complete withdrawal of United States troops from the Middle East. So, they warmly welcome the American’s withdrawal from Afghanistan even if it brings to the fore an extremist group to power in Iran’s neighboring country.
In conflicts between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government a few months ago, Iran neither intervened directly and indirectly in the next door situation nor tried to protect the government of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, based on part speculations and reports, Iran stepped up its diplomatic outreach with the Taliban in a wily strategy.
Although some countries denounced the advances of the Taliban in recent months, the Islamic Republic of Iran only calmly followed the latest developments surrounding its neighbor by expressing concern, “We are concern deeply about the Afghanistan situation. However, the Islamic Republic always has benefited its full potential to making peace and stability in Afghanistan. Tehran is ready to help that inter-Afghan talks form an inclusive government with the participation of all ethnic groups in Afghanistan.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on August 9, 2021.”
On July 7-8, former Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hosted representatives from the Taliban. In this session, Zarif described the insurgency of the Taliban as a “Jihad,” literally denoting a holy war, and added, “We stand beside you in struggling against foreign occupiers. Iran will support the formation of an inclusive Islamic government in Afghanistan as a coalition government.”
Recently, Iran’s politicians have tried to make a positive view of the Taliban in public opinion to justify Iran’s relations with this extremism group, “The Taliban is one of the noble movements in the region with a Pashto background. Cooperation with the Taliban leads to developed stability in Afghanistan, and it prevents the influence of groups such as ISIS. We must not get entangled in false information and fake news of the American media about the Taliban.” Tweeted Ahmad Naderi, Iranian parliamentarian, in December 2020.
Some reports say that Iran is accused of providing military support to the insurgents in a bid to accelerate the pushing America out of Afghanistan by galvanizing the Taliban to harm American troops and assets in recent years, but Tehran has denied such claims. “Iran has provided the Taliban with financial support and training,” told a senior defense intelligence official during a Pentagon news briefing about the DIA’s Iran report.
Also, after the assassination of general Soleimani, the former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of undermining the Afghan peace process by using militant groups in the country. He stressed that “the Taliban’s entanglement in Iran’s dirty work will only harm the Afghan peace process.”
When the Taliban captured Afghanistan, while Iran remained careful to expose its satisfaction, its allies warmly welcomed the Taliban. Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, said that Moscow’s long campaign to build ties with the Taliban appeared now to be paying off,” Kabulov told Ekho Moskvy.
Also, China has remained open its embassy in Kabul and proposed friendly relations with the Taliban. The country has stepped up diplomatic efforts with the Taliban and encouraged the group to a political settlement after the U.S. withdrawal.
“Iran and China can conduct common collaborations in Afghanistan under the 25-year cooperation agreement between two countries,” said Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister in session with China’s special envoy on Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong.
In addition, the Islamic militant group Hamas, as an obedient of Iran’s policy, has congratulated the Taliban for their swift takeover of Afghanistan and the end to the United States’ 20-year presence in the country. In a statement, Hamas welcomed “the defeat of the American occupation on all Afghan land” and praised what it said was the Taliban’s “courageous leadership on this victory.”
Like American officials that were stunned by the rapid collapse of the Afghan Army in the face of the Taliban’s aggression, the new administration in Iran was shocked over swift developments next door. Iran is satisfied with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but Iran’s compromise with the Taliban is not meant to recognize the group as a legal state by Iran. It would be challenging for the Islamic republic because the Iranian people have an overly negative image of the Taliban. The killing of Iranian diplomats in the Mazar-e-Sharif incident in 1998 by the Taliban is not something that will be forgotten from the memory of the Iranians. Even recent talks between Iranian officials and the Taliban have met with an adverse public reaction.
Iranian state media try to prove that the Taliban have gained experiences over the past two decades that have rationalized their behavior not to repeat the tragedies and crimes of the past. However, some ordinary Iranians recently posted many videos on social media to show the savage behavior of this group and criticized some Iranian officials who want to engage with the Taliban.
Nevertheless, a new President of Iran, Seyed Ibrahim Raisi, stressed recently that, “The defeat of the United States in Afghanistan should be transformed into an opportunity to revive life, security, and lasting peace in this country.”
After the Taliban take over Afghanistan, Iran, like other countries, will reconsider its policy over Afghanistan. One long-standing aim of Iran has come to fruition ultimately, the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. In line with the anti-Western ideology of the Islamic Republic, the United States supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Some analysts who followed the history of the Middle East developments believe that the American’s support of Iraq originated from a proverb, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Based on some reports, Iran and the Taliban worked together and separately against a common enemy in recent years, the United States. However, it remains to be seen whether America’s enemy will become Iran’s friend.