New insights into the complex relationship between Iran and the Taliban

Eight years ago, I attended a meeting with people from several different countries (Iran, European countries, Afghanistan, Turkey, and the United States). At the time, I was a part-time consultant for the US government, and most of the people in this group had (at least) close relationships with government officials. These are called "second track meetings". During a meeting, a European participant accused Iran of providing military assistance to the Taliban. A retired Iranian diplomat responded indignantly. "How can Iran provide aid to sworn enemies?" he asked. I responded that Iranians are not so clumsy and can only have one enemy or one policy at a time.

Iran’s position on the US-Afghan Taliban agreement signed in Qatar earlier this year may also appear confusing. In 1998, Iran was almost at war with Afghanistan, mainly under Taliban rule. Pakistani fighters allied with the Taliban killed 11 Iranian civilians, including 9 diplomats, in Mazar-e-Sharif. In 2001, Iran helped Iran cancel and replace the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan through field military and intelligence support in Afghanistan and diplomatic support during the UN talks on Afghanistan in Bonn. For many years, Iran has opposed political propaganda against the Taliban and rejected any difference between them and Al Qaeda. As the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan approaches its 20th anniversary, and the U.S. withdraws from the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic and imposes more sanctions, Iran is responding to the Taliban’s call for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which is the main requirement of the Taliban. The United States meets in the Doha Agreement. Iran has also begun to provide weapons to Taliban commanders in western Afghanistan, both to send messages to the United States and to respond to threats that occur on or near the border between Afghanistan and Iran. However, Iran is also the most outspoken country in the world in condemning the agreement, claiming that it is equivalent to the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that the United States recognizes the Taliban, and Tehran says this poses a threat to Iran's national security. Iranian officials welcomed the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Ballard to Tehran, this is what Donald Trump can only dream of doing at Camp David, claiming that they told the Taliban that the reconstruction of the UAE will be Iranian Cross the red line. Russia, which also holds the same position in the UAE, still agrees to the agreement. This is the best way to achieve its highest goal in Afghanistan: to withdraw US troops from its base on the southern border of the former Soviet Union. An Iranian official who requested anonymity to talk to me freely said that Russian officials have asked their Iranian counterparts if they really want the United States to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote: "Stupid consistency is the little monster of little thinkers, worshipped by little politicians, philosophers, and gods "For Iranians, there is nothing "little" about Iran, its politicians, philosophers and gods, because they are the heirs of thousands of years of uninterrupted history and civilization. Although Iran’s policy towards Afghanistan may lack stupid consistency, it puts Iran in the best position Afghanistan can achieve: no one believes it, but no one wants to compete with it.

Iran's views on the Taliban are to a large extent the conclusions drawn from the analysis of the relationship between the Taliban and the Iranian country, the United States, the greatest threat. In this regard, Iran’s policy towards the Taliban is similar to the US’s Cold War policy, which evaluates other countries’ organizations based on their relations with the Soviet Union.

Iran participated in the establishment of the "Northern Alliance" (Ittilaf-i Shamali), which overthrew Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah in 1992, and the members of the alliance were mainly composed of President Burhanuddin Raba The Islamic State ruled by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Iran has good relations with Ismail Khan of Herat and Ahmad Shah Massoud in the northeast. Until 1996, it had used northern Afghanistan as a stage to aid the Islamic movement in Tajikistan.

Although Rabbani was a Sunni member of Hanafi School, his Persian language was the source of unity. The opposition of the Rabbani government led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, supported by Arab Islamic volunteers and supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, regard Iran as a Wahhabi "Mullah made in Britain" or another case against Iran by the United States. The Iranian leader at the time publicly spoke of the Taliban as American support.

After Pakistan first provided support to the Taliban in 1994, the Taliban’s potential contribution to the security of the projected natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan to Afghanistan brought this suspicion back to the surface today.

The company would have avoided Iran's "natural" pipeline route through Iran to the Persian Gulf, but it strengthened the notion that the Taliban was part of the US strategic plan to encircle and marginalize Iran. The United States’ statement of interest in the pipeline project and speculation that the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul may bring stability to Afghanistan.

The climax of hostilities between the Taliban and Iran occurred in August 1998, when the Taliban occupied most of the large-scale aid from Pakistan in northern Afghanistan. They have overthrown Ismail Khan and captured him. Then they occupied Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif. The attack cut off Iran’s corridor from northern Afghanistan to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. During the occupation of Mazari Sharif, Pakistani fighters belonging to the Sunni sect organization Sipah-i Sahaba participated in the offensive Taliban massacre of 11 Iranians in Mazar, including 9 consular officials and a journalist. The Taliban also captured more than 100 Iranians who assisted the Rabbani government.

These incidents led to the mobilization of military forces on the Iranian side, and war was imminent. Iran has widely opposed the war with the Taliban. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, intervened to prevent war. He met Mullah Omar in Kandahar, President Mohammed Khatami in Tehran, and arranged for the prisoners to return to Iran. Brahimi attributed his success to Mullah Omar’s translator, who later learned that the translator played down his statement and Mullah Omar’s reply to prevent the meeting from breaking down. In Tehran, Brahimi tried to persuade Iranian officials that the Taliban was not an agent of the United States, but was unsuccessful, but tried to provide the prisoners to return to the country and made the crisis worse.

During the reformists' presidency, the US-Iran detente began. Khatami (elected in 1997 and 2001) immediately promoted the adjustment of Iran’s policy after 9/11, although from Iran’s perspective, it was the United States, not Iran, that changed. The United States responded to the 9/11 decision by trying to destroy Al Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban government. It seems to Iran that the United States has realized and realized where the real threat of terrorism comes from. In fact, the United States has shifted from historic alliances with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to active cooperation with Iran and Russia. The CIA made initial contacts in Dushanbe. In Dushanbe, the United States has actually cooperated with Iran on the peace process in Tajikistan. The United States has used the infrastructure Iran and Russia have established in Tajikistan to provide assistance to anti-Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan. General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, personally helped the CIA establish bases in Panjshir and Bagram. The US President’s special envoy James Dobbins met with Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Ibrahim Tahrian, in Chaykar, north of Kabul, and also with members of the Qods unit who was designated as a terrorist by the US in 2014.

Iran also provided necessary diplomatic assistance to Iran. During the United Nations talks on Afghanistan held in Bonn, Dobbins and Iranian International Organization Deputy Foreign Minister Jared Zarif (Javad Zarif) closely Cooperation, the latter later served as Minister of Foreign Affairs twice. In Bonn, I used to be a senior adviser to Brahimi. Dobbins and Zarif jointly set off for me at breakfast one day and asked why the United Nations did not include election guarantees and anti-terrorism cooperation in the draft agreement. The final agreement includes both. Zarif's private intervention in the United Front ("Northern Alliance") delegation leader Yunus Qanooni resolved the final deadlock in the formation of the interim government.

The Qatami government had hoped to continue to ease tensions with the United States, but on January 22, 2002, The New York Times published a report that shockedly warned that Iran "is working to consolidate its "In Herat's influence", this finding is similar to the Iranian report that the United States is consolidating its influence. In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Within a week of the publication of that article, President Bush listed Iran along with Iraq and North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address. During the Bonn talks, representatives of the Donald Rumsfeld Department of Defense tried to prevent Dobbins from cooperating with Zarif, but the support of Secretary of State Colin Powell allowed Dobbins to continue. However, after returning to Washington, Vice President Rumsfeld’s advocates of regime change led by Dick Cheney (first in Iraq and then in Iran) won the president’s prompting war.

The speech caused shock in Tehran and it still reverberates today. Iran is equal to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Iraq had fought bloody aggressive wars against Iran with the United States and Saudi Arabia, which cost the country about 1 million lives. This not only made the Iranian regime sympathize with, but also Also insulted by Iranians. Tehran and Washington have always resisted cooperation in Afghanistan, and Bush’s speech made those who support such cooperation unbelievable. Many of them eventually lost their positions, were eliminated, or worse. The same man who once again assumed leadership in Iran’s Afghanistan policy after President Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013 still expresses his grief for it. At a meeting in Oslo in 2014, one of them said to me: "If you don't solve it, nothing will happen to you."

A few years later, Iran's position on the US presence in Afghanistan has become more Enemy, despite the general opposition from anti-Sunni jihadist terrorists (despite disagreements on who is eligible to be Sunni jihadist terrorists, especially Hamas) and Iran’s actions along its 540-mile border with Afghanistan Stability requires checks and balances. Then, the United States invaded Iraq. Iraq did not pose a terrorist threat to the United States, nor did it show any signs of withdrawal from Afghanistan. Instead, it turned it into a NATO mission and sent troops from the entire Western alliance. Not only Iran but other countries in the region question whether the United States’ goals are limited to the common goal of opposing Sunni jihadist terrorism. These suspicions were confirmed on May 23, 2005, when Bush and President Hamid Karzai signed the "Joint Statement on the Strategic Partnership between the United States and Afghanistan." Although the declaration stated that it was "not directed against any third country," it also pointed out that the U.S. military would continue to enter Afghanistan bases, where they would "continue to enjoy the freedom of movement necessary for appropriate military operations. Based on consultation and pre-agreed procedures." First One phrase is a profession, and the second is a guaranteed ability. Security planners in various countries plan for specific, observable, rather than intended, unverifiable and variable capabilities.

The United States has rejected Khatami's generous bargaining proposal in 2003, and is working to consolidate Afghanistan and the regime change in Afghanistan. Iraq. Iran, which appears to be ranked second, is in the preparatory stage of the presidential election when the declaration of strategic partnership is signed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory in August 2005 led to the formalization of a new attitude towards the US presence in Afghanistan (though not yet in the Taliban). Ahmadinejad asked Karzai to reach a declaration of strategic partnership with Iran, which is similar to the declaration he signed with the United States. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the idea. As the situation in Iraq stabilizes from disaster to disaster, the calls for regime change in Washington are getting louder. On May 11, 2007, Cheney warned Iran-while standing on the American aircraft carrier John Stennis (named after a staunch white supremacist senator from Mississippi), the United States was ready to use its naval power against Iran Threat. In September 2007, the newly appointed commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, General Mohammad Ali Jafari (Mohammad Ali Jafari) announced that thereafter, if the United States attacks Iran, Iran will respond to US forces and assets wherever it may reach.

A few weeks after Cheney’s performance, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talked to Karzai in Kabul. He told the media that the United States was observing the reception of weapons from Iran by "Afghan insurgents". Iranian officials confirmed this. . , But given the large number of cross-border smuggling, he is not sure whether the government is involved. On his way home to Germany on June 14, Gates was no longer bound by Karzai's sensitivity. He said that the number of weapons flowing was sufficient to show that the Iranian government already knew about it. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns made a more specific allegation against CNN that "incontrovertible evidence" indicated that the weapons were provided by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In September, after General Jaafari announced the new policy, General William Fallon of the Central Command told the media in Kabul that Iran “apparently” provided the Afghan insurgents with the parts needed to make the same explosive parts. For so much damage

The perception that the presence and withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan poses a threat to Iran continues to affect Iran’s perception of the Taliban. Previously, Iran had regarded the Taliban as part of a Saudi-funded network of Sunni jihadist groups targeting the United States. It opposes attempts to conduct political outreach to the Taliban and denies that the Taliban is very different from Al Qaeda. As Iran became increasingly concerned about the threat of the United States’ long-standing military presence in Afghanistan, it gradually formulated a two-track policy.

The Taliban began a diplomatic offensive in 2007 with the purpose of persuading the United States and Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s neighbors believe that their target is limited to Afghanistan. They want to convince the United States that if the United States withdraws its troops, they can stop providing asylum to Al Qaeda. For Iran and Russia, which are similarly hostile to the Taliban, they emphasized their common interest in opposing the US military presence in Afghanistan, and at the same time assured them that they have no plans to target any neighboring countries in Afghanistan. At the time, the Taliban were still on the phone with Saudi Arabia, and King Abdullah hosted a reconciliation meeting between Afghans during Ramadan in September 2008. According to the organizers of the meeting, some Afghans with high-level ties to the government attended the meeting. Minister Manouchehr Mottaki then asked Afghan President Dr. Abdullah why the Saudis tried Bring back the Taliban. As long as the Taliban seem to be close to Saudi Arabia, the relationship between Iran and them will be limited.

However, in 2009, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Taliban broke down. When Prince Muklin bin Abdulaziz, head of intelligence of Saudi Arabia, met with Taliban political envoy Taib Agha in Jeddah, they acted as mediators between the United States and the Afghan government on the premise that the Taliban boycott Saudi Arabia Human conditions have generated fierce controversy. King Abdullah insisted that the Taliban publicly condemned Al Qaeda before Saudi Arabia took action. The Taliban insist that such actions can only be taken at the end of the process, not at the end of the process. Muqrin expelled Tayyib Agha from Saudi Arabia. Soon after, Muqrin was visited by the head of Pakistan’s intelligence and the director general of international intelligence and inter-agency intelligence, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha. He advised his Saudi brothers to consult Take action in the case of Pakistan. Two things happened after this meeting: Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with the peace process in Afghanistan. Muklin and his accomplices began to tell their American counterparts that Tayyib Agha is an Iranian agent and Soleimani Pay him $10,000 a month.

After that, the Taliban switched to mediation with Germany and Qatar, and started direct dialogue with the United States on November 29, 2010 in Germany. Tayyib Agha told his American interlocutors that Iran is Afghanistan’s “most dangerous neighbor”. Iran is trying to use US contacts with the Taliban to create suspicion between the Afghan government and the US. To give a small example, in 2011, when I was an adviser to the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, a senior Afghan official told me that an Iranian official he met in Turkmenistan told him that I had been in 2000. Meet with Mullah Omar. Quetta, Pakistan. I'm not sure if he completely believes in my denial.

Engagement with the United States and other countries is part of the Taliban’s strategy, which uses the military and political stamina shown by the Taliban by seeking international recognition as a legitimate political movement rather than terrorists. As the domestic counterpart of the policy, the Taliban also tried to understate the allegiance of the Sunni sect. During their reign, they massacred the Hazara, who were mainly Shiites, and the Shiites in Afghanistan still massacred the Taliban to a large extent, equating them with ISIL. However, although the Taliban’s public statements and media press releases did not compromise their loyalty to Hanafi’s jurisprudence, they began to promote their good relations with certain Hazaras and claimed that they regarded them as fellow Muslims and " Afghans" (Afghanistan). This has not convinced many Shiites in Afghanistan, but it has made it easier for Iran to contact the Taliban and take advantage of their common opposition to US military power.

According to reports, on a regular basis, intelligence reports surfaced, claiming that Iran has begun to provide no Taliban only projectiles, but also includes anti-aircraft weapons. Just in January 2020, I saw a video of a Soviet-made surface-to-air missile that the Taliban in Helmand allegedly obtained from Iran. So far, there is no evidence that the Taliban have used such anti-aircraft weapons.

During the Obama administration, as the United States began negotiations with Iran and the Taliban, Iran seemed to have concluded that the need to deal with the Taliban was a future part of the political scene in Afghanistan. Throughout this period, apart from the long-term disputes with the states over water, immigration and drug trafficking, Iran continued to maintain friendly relations with the Afghan government. Iran also continues to fund and support important opposition leaders who support the constitutional system.

The combination of leadership struggle and Pakistani pressure brought the Taliban leadership closer to Iran after 2014. After the Taliban were expelled from Afghanistan by a US military offensive in 2001, deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar took over the reorganization of the Taliban leaders in Baluchistan and Karachi , While Mullah Omar turned a blind eye. Barada's leadership is undisputed. Barada was arrested in Karachi in January 2010 during the CIA-Inter-Services Intelligence joint operation, which led to a leadership dispute. Akhtar Muhammad Mansour (Akhtar Muhammad Mansour) became the first deputy leader, and Abdul Qayyum Zakir (Abdul Qayyum Zakir) became the second deputy leader. Mansour claimed to have the same power as Ballard, reporting directly to Mullah Omar, and overseeing the entire Taliban organization, while Zakir reported to him as the deputy leader of military affairs. Zakir claimed that he and Mansour were at the same level and both reported to Mullah Omar. Zakir was in charge of military affairs and Mansour was in charge of political and civil affairs.

Mansour and Zakir are from Helmand Province, Ishakzai tribe and Alizai Pashtu tribe respectively. Both tribes are deeply involved in the production, refining and trafficking of opium. The town of Zaranj on the Afghanistan-Iran border is only 136 miles away from the Delaram highway, where the only bridge across the Helmand River is the main crossing point for heroin from Helmand Province to Iran. In Delaran (the teahouse where I stopped when I was a UN consultant from Kandahar to Farah in June 1998), the slip road to Zaranj and the Iranian border is from Kandahar on the Afghan ring road- The section of Kandahar-Herat extends southwest. That route traverses Nimruz, which is the only province in Afghanistan where the Baluchistan is the majority, bordering Pakistan's Baluchistan province and Iran's Sistan-Baluchstan province. The meet road branch that lives at the junction of these three countries easily crosses the border and dominates legal and illegal cross-border trade in the region.

Although the Luzhi of Afghanistan did not quarrel with weak countries, which largely led to their loneliness, their fellows in Pakistan and Iran struggled for independence or autonomy. In Pakistan, the Luchi National Front championed secular nationalism and has benefited from the support of India, the Soviet Union, Iraq and Afghanistan for decades. Iranian organizations such as Jundullah have adopted Sunni and even Salafic Islamism, and have received assistance from Saudi Arabia to conduct activities through Pakistani territory. Both Pakistan and Iran believe (based on certain facts) that their respective Baluchist movement is supported by tough enemies, India is a supporter of Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia is a supporter of the United States and Iran. Israeli agents pretending to be Israelis provided secret assistance to Jundullah in 2007 and 2008, until the United States found out and asked them to stop.

The drug threat is intertwined with Iran's concerns about Baluchist separatism and Salafist terrorism. In early 2009, before I joined the Obama administration, an Iranian official told me that the Narcotics Bureau of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was increasingly concerned that Chondura was not only related to the drug trade, but also linked to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Similar information was also transmitted through other channels, coupled with Jundullah’s terrorist acts of killing civilians, which led the Obama administration to designate Jundullah as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2010, although it was not without long internal resistance and delays. Make the appointment almost useless.

Starting around 2014, the rise of ISIL and the establishment of ISIL in Afghanistan’s Khorasan province have put Iran facing new threats along its eastern and western borders. ISIL controls an area in Jazcan province in northwestern Afghanistan that borders Turkmenistan (Russia considers this a direct threat) and spans the road connecting Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Mazar-i-Sharif. Head to Mashhad, the capital of Razawi Khorasan Province, Iran. The Afghan monarchy has settled the Ishakzais and Alizas from Helmand province in Jazjan to support contact with most Uzbeks. These tribes have maintained their relationship with the Helmands. Family and clan connection. Ishaqzais and Alizais were driven away by Uzbek forces supported by the United States. Juzzjan, the leader of the former Soviet Union militia, Abdul Abdul Rashid Dostum took refuge in Helmand with their companions. There, they learned the techniques of poppy cultivation, some of them eventually brought it back to Jazjan.

Pakistan, the changing dynamics between the Taliban leadership and the United States provide Iran with new opportunities to tackle the interrelated drug problem. Terrorism, external subversion and separatism in the Baluchistan region of Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan. With the clear authorization of Mullah Omar, Mansour took over Tayyib Agha's outreach affairs from Mullah Baradar after his detention. However, he did not inform the leadership of Shura Chairman Mullah Zakir or Mullah Hasan Akhund. When news leaked in 2011, this intensified the dispute with Zakir, which eventually led to the dismissal of Zakir as deputy leader and head of the military council in April 2014.

Subsequently, it was reported that both Zakir and Mansour had stayed in Iran for some time at the invitation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Zakir seems to have been looking for a base that can operate more independently. He also started to spend more time in Helmand Province instead of Pakistan. In 2015, Mansour received greater pressure from Pakistan and hoped to participate in the talks with the High Peace Council of Afghanistan in Pakistan. Under pressure, he authorized some members of the Taliban who are particularly close to Pakistan’s intelligence services to participate in a meeting in Muri in July. Others in the leadership asked to know whether Mullah Omar had approved such a departure from the long-term policy. Practice, which led to the revelation that the leader passed away two years ago.

Mansour, who had served as the successor of Mullah Omar, managed to formalize it, but only after months of leadership struggles and overcoming the resistance of the Omar family did Mansour officially announce it. Pakistan used the rift to gain people's love, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the late commander Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani (Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani), was appointed as the deputy leader in charge of military affairs. One of the methods Mansour used to withstand the increasing pressure was to contact Iran, where he stayed for several weeks at a time in February, March and April to May 2016. On May 21, he was killed by a U.S. drone launched from Afghanistan, then crossed the Baluchistan province from the Iranian border to his home in Kuchlak, outside Quetta. Someone posted an image of his pseudonym passport on the Internet. Considering that it was allegedly rescued from a taxi that left only carbon black embers, the photo is surprisingly pristine (see picture). This has led to speculation that the passport was actually taken by Pakistani officials at the border crossing, who alerted the United States to the whereabouts of Mansour.

Picture 1: Akhtar Mohamed Mansour’s passport photograph allegedly retrieved from the wreckage of a drone

Source of information : Voice of America

I have no direct knowledge of the discussions between Mansour and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard for several months, but it seems that there is no courtesy call. Since then, Iran has established an open political relationship with the Taliban. It invited delegations, including a delegation led by Mullah Gani Barada, deputy leader and head of the political office. Pakistan was detained for eight years at the request of the United States in 2018 and released Pakistan to lead the Doha negotiation team.

] According to various reports, the talks involved the connection between all the above topics: a common struggle against the American presence in Afghanistan, through the Herman Texas state to manage the heroin trade in a way that does not profit from Saudi-supported Bal Part of the Luzhi Group defended the Iran-Afghanistan border from groups such as Jundullah, cooperated in the struggle with the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and cooperated in intelligence on American military and intelligence operations in Helmand and along the border. These visits are managed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps without the involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs may have learned about it at the same time as the rest of us when Mansour was killed, but since then, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced a political dialogue with the Taliban, including Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (Javad Zarif) and Mu At least one meeting held by Mullah Baradar in Tehran.

Iranian officials have informed the Afghan government of their relations with the Taliban since then. In December 2018, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Defense Council of Iran, visited Kabul to brief the Afghan government. Iran told the government that it is supplying light weapons to the Taliban to solve security problems on the Afghan side of the border, but Iran has not provided weapons that can change the political situation of the Taliban-in other words, there is no air defense system that can be carried. The issues of concern include all of the above topics, although it is not clear what agreement they have reached on drug trafficking. Iran’s relations with the Taliban on the border appear to be mainly carried out through commanders with ties to the Ishaqzai tribe of Mansour, who are closely related to the drug trade. It has been reported that members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were accomplices in the transaction, and perhaps the piety of the defenders of the Islamic Republic should not even be trusted because it has the ability to make the country the only safe country between Karachi and Moscow. The troops have not been corrupted by billions of dollars in contraband. More fundamentally, though Iran, like the United States, claims to be totally opposed to the drug trade and touts its efforts against it, in neither case has counter-narcotics policy prevented intelligence and military cooperation with traffickers when deemed necessary for national security.[19659002]Shamkhani addressed one particular incident that had strained Iranian-Afghan official relations. In May 2018, the Taliban mounted an attack on and nearly captured the city of Farah, center of the province of the same name on the Iranian border with a population of about 500,000. Afghan officials charged Iran with “directly funding and equipping the Taliban in Farah.” The head of the Afghan border police in the province said that “Revolutionary Guard commanders are leading the firefight” there. During a visit to Kabul in January 2019 , I was told by Afghan officials that Shamkhani did not deny the Iranian role, but rather expressed Iran's serious concern about what he claimed was a significa nt presence in Farah of US intelligence agencies carrying out surveillance and operations in Iran. That, he implied, was the target. The Afghan government just happened to be in the way.

This lugubrious morass of countervailing intrigues provided the context for Tehran's statements, carefully straddling the invisible line between nuance and incoherence, on the US-Taliban negotiations in Doha. With channels to all camps, and the direct threat to Iran from the United States largely neutralized for now, Tehran has retained freedom of action to confront whatever further vicissitudes may agitate its relations with its eastern neighbor.

Barnett R. Rubin is director of the Afghanistan Regional Program, Center on International Cooperation, New York University, and former senior advisor to the UN special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan and the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Image: Department of Defense (Photo by Resolute Support Media)

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