THE ENEMY of Iran’s enemy isn’t necessarily their friend.
As US troops scrambled out of Kabul, they departed a broken nation – one they had failed to build during a 20-year occupation – ripe for a murderous Taliban takeover.
And while Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said Washington’s defeat was a chance to revive “life, security and lasting peace” in the region, Tehran, arguably, now has more major concerns than ever with its neighbouring nation.
The Taliban – who operate based on an extremist Sunni ideology – are natural enemies with the Shi’a leadership in Iran.
Despite this, some analysts have suggested that Iran is celebrating the Taliban takeover as a victory for its regional policy goals.
Dr Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, the author of What is Iran?, told Redaction Report: “It is not true that Iran welcomed the Taliban takeover as it is portrayed in some sections of the mainstream press.
“Like everyone else, Iran had to accept the defeat of the United States’ aims in the country as a fait accompli.
“Traditionally Iran supported the Northern Alliance and in particular Ahmad Shah Massoud who was killed in an al-Qaeda suicide mission a couple of days before the terror attacks of 9/11.”
In addition, 11 Iranian officials and an Iranian journalist were massacred by Taliban soldiers in Mazar-i-Sharif – a city controlled by forces opposed to the Taliban – in 1988.
Some officials have clearly never forgotten the actions of the Taliban.
Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, a 102-year-old top cleric, recently said it would be a “great and irreparable mistake to trust a group whose record of wickedness, murder and slaughtering people is clear to the whole world.”
It’s also worth noting that Iran played a key supportive role to the Northern Alliance – an anti-Taliban coalition led by nations including Turkey and Tajikistan.
The Alliance has recently been resurrected on a far smaller scale – but Tehran’s aid could make a massive difference. According to the expert, however, Iran will only make such decisions reactively.
He said: “Like any other country, Iran would adjust it’s behaviour in response to the Taliban’s foreign policies.”
“The takeover of the Taliban is an unmitigated disaster for the United States – in that respect it pays into the hands of the hardline factions in Iran,” Dr Adib-Moghaddam added.
“But we shouldn’t forget that both countries have had shared interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere for that matter.
“Alas, the politicians in Tehran and Washington DC never really managed to act upon those common interests, largely due to a mixture of incompetence and ideology on both sides.”
Iran also has its own people – from a religious perspective – to worry about.
The minority Hazara population – a Persian-speaking, majority-Shi’a group residing in Central Asia – have long been persecuted in Afghanistan.
Even before the Taliban entered power, they were still oppressed by Pashtuns.
Now, however, they are in more danger than ever.
Last week, Amnesty International reported that the Taliban massacred nine Hazaras. The true extent of the Taliban’s hatred for the group, however, is laid bare by the thousands murdered in an attack in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998.
There have been musings that Iran is willing to strike a deal with the Taliban in order to protect the group – but Dr Adib-Moghaddam said it may just be a minor part of their interests in the nation.
“Iran’s interest in Afghanistan is historical, due to a shared, ancient history in various common dynasties, shared culture, poetry, food, names, language, ethnicity and so on,” he said.
“The sectarian element makes for bad analysis, as it undervalues the strategic preferences of the Iranian state which I set out in detail in What is Iran?.
“These preferences include the Hazara, but are far from exclusive to them. For instance, the Tajik population of Afghanistan especially in and around Herat has very deep linkages to Iran and they are not “Shia”.
“Iran, as any other state, operates in accordance with interests and alliance patterns.”
Dr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Dipl. Pol. (Hamburg), MPhil, PhD (Cantab)
is a Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS.
He is the author of “What is Iran? Domestic Politics and International Relations in Five Musical Pieces”, published by Cambridge University Press as a part of the influential “The Global Middle East” book series.
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