January 16, 2020
There is clear evidence elements tied to Iran’s security apparatus in recent years have played a damaging role inside Afghanistan, especially in the country’s west, including by funding and arming militants – the Taliban among them. However, the Trump administration has grossly exaggerated the nature and extent of these operations in a bid to both make Iran a scapegoat and build an argument for regime change in Tehran.
Washington has been trying to fuel fears that Iran will strike at American interests in Afghanistan to avenge the assassination of Quds force commander Qesem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in early January. Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for by targeting Iranians the U.S. is increasing the odds the Iranians will target American military assets, wherever they may be, including in Afghanistan.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has exaggerated the threat beyond belief, even suggesting that the Haqqani Network is an Iranian proxy force. A FOX correspondent said Pompeo’s claim was “baffling” given that Pakistan is well known to be the main force backing the group.
This is nothing new for America’s top diplomat. In June, Pompeo – without presenting a shred of evidence – blamed Iran for a car bomb attack in Kabul. Subject matter experts described the allegations as questionable if not an outright fabrication.
Actual intelligence assessments that have come to light show a mixed record regarding Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan. Intelligence reports recently obtained by Military Times reveal American military officials saying that the threat posed by Iran inside Afghanistan has been minimal.
Many of the assessments, filed between 2010 and 2012 when U.S. forces in Afghanistan were at their height, appeared to conclude that the limited amount of Iranian aid that was provided was designed to prevent a Taliban return to power while avoiding increasing tensions with the U.S., the Military Times’ Shawn Stone wrote on January 14.
The journalist quoted directly from a 2012 U.S. intelligence report explaining the limited nature of Iranian aid to the insurgents.
“Iranian support to the Taliban is tempered by their realization that Taliban control of Afghanistan is not in Iran’s best long term interest due to a history of ideological differences,” the report said.
However, there is overwhelming evidence and many more reasons as to why Shia Iran is unlikely to have very close ties with the radical Sunni Taliban.
For starters, Iran has intensified diplomatic relations with the Afghan government – the Afghan government being the side that is fighting the Taliban. Moreover, Tehran has made significant investments in Afghanistan and is working closely with the Afghan government on a port project that could be a lifeline for Iran amid U.S. sanctions.
Not to mention, Iran has a long history of fiercely opposing the Taliban and the Taliban’s parents (the mujahideen) dating back to the 1980s. Iran also supported the United States in toppling the Taliban post-9/11 – with Soleimani’s help.
And by the way, Soleimani’s replacement, Ismail Qaan, has been heavily involved in boosting Shia factions in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban.
And although Iran has boosted diplomatic ties with the Taliban, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif has made it clear that Tehran is opposed to the Sunni insurgent group playing a dominant role in Afghanistan. Zarif in an interview with NDTV last January said Iran opposed Pakistan when Islamabad “helped create the Taliban” in the 1990s.
And fears that Iran might undermine Washington’s peace talks with the Taliban are totally illogical given that Tehran would like nothing more than to see U.S. forces leave the region.
Although the reaction was mixed, many Afghan leaders expressed anger at the murder of Soleimani, with some describing him as a “martyr” and others noting that the deceased commander played a huge role in the fight against the Islamic State.
Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Latif Pedram in a tweet on January 4 called on the international community to denounce “the brutal assassination of Qassim Suleimani by the tyrannical US regime.”
Abdul Karim Khurram, former chief of staff for President Karzai, in a tweet linked to an article about Soleimani’s demise, reminded everyone that Iran is not the biggest threat to either the region or Afghan interests.
“From what the US is doing in the Middle East, Iran and the countries around Afghanistan, and adding to the violence every day, it shows that the U.S. is not trying to bring a genuine [peace] in Afghanistan,” Khurram said.