Iran-Afghanistan: From Antagonism to Pragmatisms

In the last two decades despite International criticism, Iran has maintained relations with its eastern neighbor and supported both sides of the conflict, supporting the now-deposed Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul while also forging ties with today’s Taliban.

Following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces; Taliban returned to power in August 2020 prompting Tehran to cooperate pragmatically with the Taliban to protect and advance its regional and national security objectives. Regardless of the decade’s hostility Iran soon after the withdrawal of US forces hosted a delegation of Taliban led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is now Afghanistan’s acting first vice-premier. Iran has adopted a realistic approach for three reasons: first, it needs more water, second, it wants to defend its borders against hostile actors, refugees, and trafficking, and third, it wants to deter other threats.

The West viewed Iran’s foreign policy as unipolar decision-making apparatus but this does not mean that the authority simply issues a decree and we expect everyone to obey.  Within a maze of entities and power structures, Iran has a long process of consensus-building that occurs in the policy development process. Various religio-political factions rarely agree on foreign policy, which adds to the political complication.

Iran being a revisionist state has stuck to its foreign policy, which is outlined in Articles 152, 153, and 154 of its constitution, that is; the Islamic Republic seeks to oppose all forms of hegemony while maintaining its geographical integrity. Iran will pursue nonalignment while protecting its natural resources (primarily oil and gas) from external control, in keeping with the revolutionary motto “neither East nor West”. Finally, the constitution prevents the government from participating in other countries’ internal affairs, although it supports the concept of protecting the “oppressed” against “oppressors” all over the world.

Due to the disagreements depicted, Iran will have little influence on Afghanistan. History is being witnessed, both countries’ strained relations embedded after the Soviet invasion in 1990 When Taliban tenants formally took control of Afghanistan, infusing Wahabism and Deobandi seminaries and repressed the Hazaras by excluding them politically, isolating them economically, and killing over 1,000 people due to its anti-Shiite religious milieu.

Tension rose when a conflict erupted over northern Afghanistan and the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where the Northern Alliance was based. While it seemed evident that Iran, a mainly Shiite country, would back the Northern Alliance dominated by ethnic Tajiks, who are a Persianate people and other minorities who speak Dari, which is an Afghan dialect of Persian. In 1998, the Taliban assassinated nine Iranian diplomats working at a consulate in northern Mazar-i-Sharif, and the two nations were on the verge of war after thousands were dead and the Taliban executed members of the Hazara and Uzbek ethnic groups.

Relations between Tehran and the Taliban, on the other hand, began to draw international notice in 2015 when Iran increasingly made its ties with the Taliban public even by playing an important role in Taliban-US dialogue, argued it as an attempt to reconcile competing interests in a neighboring country.

In 2021, Iran prioritized easing tensions with neighbors and bolstering relations with non-Western powers. The Raisi government’s first major foreign engagement was a regional conference in Iraq. It also included the presidents, kings or foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE. The purpose was to reduce tensions in the region, notably between Iran and Arab countries.

Raise’s foreign policy strategy strengthened Tehran’s non-oil trade especially with the US sanctioned states like Afghanistan. Ahmad Saeed Qasimyan, deputy of the Chamber of Commerce in Heart claimed that From August to December 2021, Iran imported $45 million in goods through western Afghanistan, whereas Iran exported $31.1 billion in commodities and imported $32 billion in the first eight months of the Persian year (March 21 to November 21), a 41 percent rise in overall commerce over the same period last year.

President Raisi declared on December 5 that 100,000 firms had reopened since he assumed office in August. Saeed Aminshah Hosseini, sales manager of the swanky Zaitoon supermarket in Herat, 60% to 65% of the shop’s brands that used to be Turkish or European replaced with Iranian products. He added “We will 100% become more dependent on Iran if this situation continues”.

Iran’s current foreign policy has shown its vigilant approach towards security and sovereignty inline to its neighbors at the same time Iran’s peaceful trade engagement shows its role as a peace promoter in the region.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of ICDT.


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