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What is the future of Iran’s engagements with the Taliban?

Iran is an ambitious regional player with a clear understanding of its complex surroundings and a cautious plan to chart a path through them. Iran’s complicated ties with Afghanistan can be attributed to its unremitting opposition to the United States, which was a strong partner of the Kabul regime. As a Shi’a-dominant country, Iran had a long history of ideological differences and political rivalry with the Afghan Taliban.

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Iran shares a 921km (572-mile) border with Afghanistan, has also suffered from the instability in Afghanistan for decades. Tehran backed the Northern Alliance forces and did not recognize the Taliban regime in the 1990s. Iran established links with the Taliban to undermine US interests by covertly supporting it. Iran was worried due to the American presence near its borders. Overall, Tehran was happy with the American withdrawal, which Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi termed a military “failure” in an August 16 statement.

But his regime has also been worried about the security and political situation in the country ever since. It responded sharply to the Taliban offensive against the opposition stronghold in Panjshir valley in early September. Tehran also criticized the Taliban leadership for not including minorities in the cabinet is announced. One of its main worries in Afghanistan is protecting the Hazara Shia community and protecting its proxies within the Taliban, which faced severe persecution during the last Taliban government.

Read more: Why Turkey was so keen to protect Kabul Airport?

Iran also considers Afghanistan for economic opportunities apart from political gains

The US sanctions severely hurt Iranian global trade, but Afghanistan under the Taliban would not shun economic engagement to please the US. Iran will try to maintain its access to the Afghan market, flooded with Iranian goods in recent years. Iran became Afghanistan’s most prominent trade destination, with its exports reaching nearly $2bn in 2018; Afghanistan also uses Iranian ports. While focusing on high trade volumes, Iran will also seek to stem the flow of narcotics through its porous border with Afghanistan.

Iran is a significant market for Afghan opium and an essential corridor for shipping narcotics to Europe and the Persian Gulf. The Taliban has been repeatedly accused of benefitting from the narco economy and encouraging it. Therefore, setting up effective mechanisms with the Taliban government to solve the narcotics problem will be a significant challenge for Iran. Another core issue between Kabul and Tehran is militants threatening Iranian security. In recent years, Iran’s border regions of Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan have seen several terrorist attacks alleged on militant groups operating along the Afghan-Iranian and Pakistani-Iranian borders.

Read more: Opportunities for China in Afghanistan after US-Exit

The Taliban has guaranteed that Afghan soil will never be used against any other state, but Iran will expect actions more than just words. Iran is also hosting over 2 million refugees. With its economy in tatters and socioeconomic tensions within Iranian society rising, the Iranian government is not in a position to welcome newcomers. That is why Iran wants to see peace and stability in Afghanistan, allowing some refugees to return. Afghanistan’s neighboring states like Pakistan, China and Iran – all want to see a stable Afghanistan. Stability and peace in Afghanistan will enhance the trade volume among these countries. In this way, the Taliban regime will counter US pressure,  which will seek to overcome American influence in the region and determine its new security infrastructure.

 

The writer is a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Government College University Faisalabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at Aamirjunaid798@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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