An editorial in Afghanistan’s largest daily Hasht-e Sobh accuses the Iranian government of “playing a double game” in Afghanistan. The article analyzes Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s weekend visit to Kabul and warns that such diplomatic outreach would yield no results unless the Iranian government cuts ties with terrorist groups fighting in Afghanistan. “Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s trip to Kabul was an opportunity for high-ranking officials of the national unity government to share Afghanistan’s legitimate concerns with him,” the paper stressed. “Iranian officials have claimed they maintain s with the Taliban. Iranian diplomats in Kabul have also said that they are in with this group for ‘intelligence control of the Taliban.’ Iranian media outlets close to the country’s military and intelligence institutions have also reported on Taliban representatives’ trips to Tehran.”
Hasht-e Sobh further notes that Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani implicitly criticized Iran by saying at a joint press conference with Zarif that establishing s with terrorist groups would only exacerbate security in the region. The paper continued: “It appears that Tehran’s ties with the Taliban are not limited to s and talks. Some time ago, a well-documented report was published that showed the Taliban buried its fighters inside the Iranian territory. The Taliban’s unofficial spokesman also says that this group’s representatives travel to and from Tehran. Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the former Taliban leader, was targeted by an American drone while he was returning from Iran.”
According to Hasht-e Sobh, Afghan leaders are worried that Tehran wants to use the “Taliban card” to pressure the United States.
Comment: As Hasht-e Sobh indicates, the Iranian government has played both sides of the conflict in Afghanistan in the past decade and a half. Since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001, successive administrations in Tehran have sought to cultivate close ties with Kabul. Iran has also contributed to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and bilateral trade between the two countries now exceeds $2 billion annually. At the same time, however, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) and its elite Quds Force have recruited, sheltered, trained and funded Taliban groups – particularly in western and southern Afghanistan – to undermine the U.S.-led counterterrorism and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan as well as to accelerate the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
In addition, Tehran has also used its ties with the Taliban for its geopolitical goals in South Asia and the Middle East and to pressure the Afghan government for political concessions. Recently, Iran has also deepened its ties with the Taliban to create a buffer zone in western Afghanistan against the threat of the Islamic State along its eastern border. The Islamic Republic has faced a low-intensity insurgency by the disgruntled Sunni community in Sistan and Baluchistan Province for many years and Iranian leaders take the threat seriously.