Iran takes a harder line towards Taliban; Pakistan influence a worry for Tehran

Two days after the Taliban announced its interim cabinet, Iran reiterated its call for the formation of an “inclusive” government in Afghanistan, saying that the past showed that non-inclusive government didn’t help achieve stability in the country

Sep 10, 2021
Iran takes a harder line towards Taliban

Two days after the Taliban announced its interim cabinet, Iran reiterated its call for the formation of an “inclusive” government in Afghanistan, saying that the past showed that non-inclusive government didn’t help achieve stability in the country.   

Iran’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement following the China-led meeting of the foreign ministers of neighboring countries of Afghanistan. In the statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian wads quoted as saying that Iran was following up on the formation of “an inclusive government with the participation of all people” and hoped the Taliban would abide by its promises for such an administration.

The interim cabinet announced by the Taliban included no woman or the members of the Shia community, for whom Iran has long acted as a patron. 

Hossein further added, “Experience has shown that a non-inclusive government does nothing to help stability, peace, and progress in Afghanistan, so our expectation from the foreign ministers is to announce the necessity for the formation of an inclusive government with a unified voice,” 

Iran, the second most important neighbor to Afghanistan, was the last among key players to react and has largely been guarded in its reaction to the Taliban-dominated government. Iran and the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban are, in a way, ideological rivals despite both being Islamic nations. 

For years, Iran had been advocating accommodating the Taliban in a future Afghan government and at the same time ruling out the possibility of a complete Talibanization of the country. Earlier, when the Taliban launched its assault in Panjshir, Tehran reacted sharply against the group and warned "neighbors"--without naming Pakistan--against external interference. 

Also, Tehran may not have directly criticized the Taliban for monopolizing power; however, there exists a glaring contrast between the official and unofficial lines (through former officials) on the developments in Afghanistan. For instance, former foreign minister Javad Zarif condemned the Taliban in a tweet and called it “a horrifying strategic mistake”.  

Zarif tweeted “No one – domestic or alien – can rule the valiant people of Afghanistan by force. Three superpowers failed miserably. So will any other claimant to coercive authority,”-- possibly a veiled reference to Pakistan.  “Time to engage & include before tides change again,” he added. 

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a known hardliner in Iranian politics, was more direct and straight in his attacks on Pakistan and the Taliban. In an interview to India's WION news channel, he alleged that Pakistani officials were involved in the Panjshir assault. 

“I have a piece of advice for Pakistan,” he said, “What happened in Afghanistan will soon take the grip of Pakistan. Countries which supported and designed this plot will face the consequences.” 

Also, he termed the rise of the Taliban an “international anti-human satanic plot” by a few world powers (the US and West). Terming the Taliban a “threat” to Iran, he said, “The entire project of the Taliban is the violation of international laws.” 

Iran’s security chief Ali Shamkhani had also expressed concern over “ignoring the need for inclusive government, foreign intervention, and the use of military” instead of dialogue aimed at representing the different ethnic and social groups in Afghanistan, Al Jazeera reported. 

One of the most significant signs--which has largely gone unnoticed in mainstream media - the Iranian foreign minister, after assuming office, held three phone calls with former Afghan leaders - Hanif Atmar, former president Hamid Karzai and the head of high council for national reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah. 

The call with Hanif Atmar, former foreign minister of Afghanistan, came on Monday this week. The statement issued by the Iranian Foreign Ministry referred to Atmar as “Afghan Foreign Minister” at a time when the Taliban has been in power in Afghanistan for over two weeks.

This might be a signal from Iran to the Taliban that the group is unlikely to get recognization easily from them. 

In the last two decades, Tehran had supported the Taliban tactically--despite its ideological differences-- as Americans were the common enemy for both. With Americans gone, a Talibanized Afghanistan, heavily influenced by Pakistan, and a marginalized Shia community, would not be an outcome favorable for the Iranian government and its people.  


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