TEHRAN -- As Western forces exit Afghanistan, Iran and other regional countries are watching with utmost attention, wondering what to do about the Taliban swiftly regaining power and territory next door.
The Afghan government said Friday that the Taliban had captured a key border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan.
Iran and the Taliban are at fundamental odds, and Tehran has long bristled at the Taliban’s treatment of minorities.
Tehran fears both Taliban rule and Afghanistan returning to civil war, a destabilizing prospect likely to imperil the country’s ethnic Persian and Shia communities, send more waves of Afghan refugees across the border and empower takfiri militancy in the region.
While Iran has cultivated contacts with some Taliban factions, the group is viewed with suspicion, especially after its dealings with the U.S.
“Iran is going to be harmed immensely by chaos and civil war in Afghanistan,” said Fatemeh Aman, a nonresident senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, citing in particular Tehran’s fear of the Daesh’s Afghanistan affiliate gaining ground.
But overtures to the Taliban “could be a miscalculation”, said Aman.
The Taliban, thought to control around a third of Afghanistan, have so far largely gained ground without full-scale fighting and have instead relied on cutting deals with local leaders.
Still, more than 1,500 Afghan soldiers have fled across the border to neighboring Tajikistan in recent weeks to escape Taliban advances, while some 200,000 Afghans have fled their homes this year.
The Taliban’s fast-paced advances have left the regional countries fearing the possibility that the Taliban could retake Kabul — but even more so the specter of widespread violence emboldening the flow of extremists, narcotics and weapons.
In one incident seared in Iranian memory, Taliban insurgents in 1998 attacked the Iranian Consulate in Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan and martyred nine Iranians. The two sides nearly went to war.
The outgoing government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been more circumspect regarding the whiplash developments across the border.
“We are seriously considering the issue of Afghanistan and talking to all Afghan groups,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said late last month. “A genuine dialogue between Afghans is the only lasting solution,” he said. “We are ready to facilitate talks.”
Some analysts have said that the U.S. withdrawal “is priming Afghanistan for sectarian rule”.
What the ethnically Pashtun group of Taliban fighters are now pursuing is absolute domination of Afghanistan and the practical disregard for the share and rights of the other tribes and clans, which means the domination of a minority - since many Pashtuns are also opposed to the group - over the whole of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, there is a fundamental gap between the Taliban’s words and deeds. The “new” Taliban insist to make us believe that there is a fundamental difference between the Taliban of the past and their current preferred government. But the way the Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan is to force other tribes and religions to submit to their absolute domination and “totalitarianism” – i.e. once the group takes control of Afghanistan, it will definitely speak through the barrel of guns and cast off its promises.
The Taliban are adamantly insisting on the formation of an “Islamic Emirate” and not backing down from it, while about 70% of the people and the vast majority of tribes are against the idea. The Taliban reject the “constitution” approved by the majority of the Afghan people and do not even brook amending it. Just because the Taliban cannot represent more than 30 percent of the population, they do not agree to hold parliamentary or presidential elections. They prefer a “Loya Jirga” whose members are appointed on the basis of the Pashtun majority. This means the people will not have a real say in the government for the years to come.
The Taliban are fighting the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and other ethnic groups in the northern regions, and every day a number of people are killed from both sides. This is tantamount to the resumption of an ethnic war in Afghanistan.
The Taliban want us to believe that they have conquered the northern cities peacefully and that they do not want war, but the hundreds killed and thousands displaced in the northern regions reveal the falsity of this claim. The Taliban insist that they respect Shia Muslims and the borders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but their use of force in seizing Afghanistan has put a question mark on the future of the persecuted group and security of Iran’s border.
Of course, the Shias are able to defend themselves, and the Islamic Republic of Iran will not allow the slightest encroachment on its borders, but that would incur costs which cannot be overlooked.