The era ushered in by 9/11 made theological terms such as Sunni, Shiite, Jihad, Sharia, and Salafi colloquial words, and spawned a nation of armchair experts on the intricacies of sectarianism and Islamic doctrine. . Claiming expertise is a privilege to live in a free country. Oddly, however, the US government has adopted the same easy analysis of regional and religious dynamics in the Middle East and South Asia, viz. the trope that Shiite Iran is a natural enemy of the Sunnis Taliban in Afghanistan. This is, in short, hogwash.
The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan is a gift to Iran, nothing less.
At first glance, the Wikipedia version of Islam might appear to validate the whole “enemy of my enemy” trope. From a doctrinal point of view, Orthodox Salafist Muslims like the Taliban believe that Shiism (and the majority of Iranians are Shia) is apostasy. The Sunnis, who constitute the majority of Muslims, and nominally model themselves on the behavior of the Prophet Muhammad, do not credit the Shiites, who believe that Muhammad appointed his son-in-law Ali to succeed him. Then there are the Salafists – the Taliban, al-Qaida, ISIS and others – the purist Sunnis who embrace the literal Quran. In short, they like the Shiites even less.
In a perfect world, the Salafists would demand that the Shiites embrace the true path or be eliminated along with other unbelievers. But it is not a perfect world, and Sunni and Shia fundamentalists allow both religious and political opportunity in pursuit of a higher goal. In the West it is called realpolitik. And both the Taliban and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran are its masters.
The confusion began in the aftermath of September 11, when Tehran offered to help the United States to overthrow the Taliban. Iran’s supporters in Washington envisioned a new dawn in which the United States would abandon the Sunnis essential to its Middle East policy for decades (namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the United Arab Emirates). Jordan) and would align themselves with the Shiites. And aside from the awkward centrality of anti-Americanism in the Islamic revolution in Iran, the idea had legs. After all, there was little love between the Taliban and Iran even before the 9/11 attacks, and Iran had backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in its resistance.
Motivated by fear of an American invasion and astute realism, Tehran indeed seemed side with the United States against the perpetrators of this terrible attack. (This despite the fact that, according to the 9/11 Commission ReportIran had helped funnel at least three of the hijackers to the United States.) But as the reality of the American occupation of Kabul emerged, Iranian leaders had doubts. And in 2003, when the United States was firmly anchored to the east of Iran in Afghanistan and to the west in Iraq, despite the vagueness hope of gullible diplomats that an Iran-US rapprochement was possible – the regime began cover operations.
Within a few years, despite apparent support for the new US-backed government in Afghanistan, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was feed the weapons to the Taliban and other anti-government forces in Afghanistan. (Coincidentally, the IRGC’s Afghanistan portfolio was held by then-Quds Force deputy, now chief, Esmail Qaani.) road for members of al-Qaida fleeing the US war in Afghanistan.
The Iran-al-Qaeda relationship is another, we have been told it is implausible. sunni The Terrorists and are the Shiite leaders cooperating? Never! But they cooperated, not only in the 2000s, but even earlier in the 1990s, when Osama bin Laden was still taking refuge in Sudan. As al-Qaeda dispersed in the face of US attacks, top leaders made Tehran their home, including senior leader Osama bin Laden’s son and heir, Hamza bin Laden (later killed by the United States). al-Qaida Saif al Adel, and Abu Muhammad al Masri, the number 1 of al-Qaeda until he too was murdered inside Iran. Iranian officials have insisted that al Qaeda greats are under house arrest, although there is little evidence to support this claim. Others explained that Iran only provided safe haven on condition that Al Qaeda did not plan attacks from Iranian soil. But they did that too much. (See Thomas Jocelyn Vital interests newsletter on Iran and al-Qaeda here.)
Ultimately, what underlies Iran’s relationship with the Taliban (as with al-Qaeda) is the central tenet of Iran’s strategic policy as a whole: instability. While Tehran may have been happy to help the United States drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan, it had no interest in seeing a stable pro-American government in the east. And so, led by the IRGC, he returned to what Iranian strategists perceive as their strong point: playing on both sides. The Taliban have been allowed to open a political office in Iran. Senior Taliban leaders have started to travel to Tehran occasionally to kiss the ring of the Supreme Leader. Meanwhile, the IRGC continued to support disgruntled Shiites inside Afghanistan. (Indeed, Iran’s support for these Shiites was such that by the time the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, Iran was well enough placed in Afghanistan to would have recruited tens of thousands of Afghan Shiites fighting on behalf of their Syrian puppet Bashar al Assad.)
Iran’s support for the Taliban was not purely political either. Tehran has authorized Taliban training camps within its borders and provided âSmall arms, rifled rocket grenades (RPGs) and even military training for Taliban forces on Iranian soil. Later articles made it clear that the Iranian government was also paying Taliban salaries. And report last year revealed that Iran was paying Taliban bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan.
Naturally, there is room for some confusion as to who is first in South Asia. The Taliban assassinated ten Iranian diplomats (and a journalist) in 1998. In the aftermath of this attack, tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers gathered on the Afghan-Iranian border. So, is Iran supporting the Taliban? Yes and no. Is Iran Arming the Taliban? Yes sometimes. Does Iran like the Taliban? No, but he hates the United States of America more. And this is where the Iranian mullahs and the new rulers of the so-called emirate of Afghanistan agree, 100%.