IRAN-TALIBAN-AFGHANISTAN-RELATIONS
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Tehran, Iran January 31, 2021. (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS)

Iran watched in silence as its once ally Northern Alliance’s current version National Resistance Front called for help from the world community in its resistance operation against the Taliban. Stranded by the world which turned deaf to its cries of help, outnumbered by Taliban who even put sanctions on food, medicine, and basic amenities in the region dominated by the National Resistance Front; for now, they have ceased active resistance. There is no information in the public domain about the whereabouts of the leaders who as most suspect have gone into hiding.

One of the last messages of Ahmad Massoud said that the fall of Panjshir happened because the world turned a blind eye towards them. None of the international organizations or world powers came to their rescue or sided with them even when the Taliban was practicing severe human rights violations to break the movement down.

What is interesting to note is that Northern Alliance and now National Resistance Front was a movement that had huge participation from the Tajik ethnicity, who Iran considers to be its own people due to common cultural roots. Iran, a Shia majority country has sided by Afghanistan’s minority Shia groups like Hazaras who in the past have been a target of the wrath of the Taliban which is a Sunni majority group. Iran’s current stance goes against its past policies and reeks of something going on beyond what plain sight can see.

The memory of the Mazar-i-Sharif massacre of 1998 are still fresh in the minds of the Iranian public who watch in disbelief as the politicians of Iran equated the Taliban to one of the noble movements in the region with a Pashto background. Some even went to the lengths of equating it to ‘Jihad’, a holy war. In the 1998 event, the members of this so-called noble movement had slain eight Iranian consulates and an Iranian journalist.

Iran and Afghanistan share a 570-mile long border and with the presence of American forces, its longtime nemesis never went well with the former. Iran and America had been at loggerheads on more than one occasion, during the Iran – Iraq war, the nuclear sanctions imposed on Iran by America, and one event that fueled it all beyond control was the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani by America. General Soleimani, a former member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was a national hero in Iran. Iran demanded the immediate removal of American forces from the region.

In less than two years since the death of General Soleimani, American forces have closed the base in Afghanistan. A massive increase in the forces of Taliban and Iran’s political class’ growing soft stance towards the group hints at something but lack of overt proof refrains one from putting words onto it.

However, there is a clear difference in the reactions of the public and the political class in Iran towards the events that recently unfolded as the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Iran proposes an inclusive government in Afghanistan. In an official statement, Saeed Khatibzadeh, Spokesperson of Iran’s  Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “Iran’s embassy in Kabul and its consulate in Taliban controlled Herat, remain fully operational.” This statement came on 16 August, a day after the Taliban occupied Kabul.

Iranian people protesting against the Taliban's occupation of Afghanistan
Iranian people protesting against the Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan. (Image Source: Iran International)

There is a growing closeness between the Iran government and the Taliban. The former has evidently advised Iran’s media channels to tone down their criticism of the Taliban. There has been a massive public aversion to these moves. People have been on the streets protesting against the recent events that happened in their neighborhood, a large group among them is the displaced Afghan refugees who moved to Iran in the hopes of better lives. Although Iran has been facing a fair share of problems with the booming increase in fuel prices and shortage of water.

While Iran’s office-bearers haven’t shown any overt support to the Taliban, they have said that it would support the idea of an inclusive government in Taliban governed Afghanistan. Would their relations be different from the last time when the Taliban was in a rule? It would see how the relations of the two neighbors unfold in the future and if peace would be restored in the region any time soon.

© The Eastern Herald
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Mansi Sharma
Studied at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi, India. Writing about Development Communication and Glocal Media. Contributor to The Eastern Herald from Jammu, India.