The assumption that Iran and the Taliban are not allies because one is Shia and the other is Sunni, is woefully inaccurate. In the past, the Iranian regime used to hide its ties with Taliban; not anymore. The Iranian regime seems happy to build alliances with any government or terror group that shares Tehran's hatred towards Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Israel or the US. Pictured: Iran's then Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right) hosts Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (center-left) in Tehran, Iran on January 31, 2021. (Photo by Tasnim News/AFP via Getty Images)
Among the many winners of the Biden administration's failure in Afghanistan and takeover of the country by the Taliban, are the mullahs of Iran's regime. The assumption that Iran and the Taliban are not allies because one is Shia and the other is Sunni, is woefully inaccurate.
Iran's leaders have long been waiting for this takeover -- at least one of the reasons they have been cheering America's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Even before the American surrender, the Iranian regime had been meeting with the leaders of the Taliban. In January, a delegation from the Taliban was already publicly consulting with senior Iranian officials, including then Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. According to him, both parties held productive talks, and discussed their ties and the future of Afghanistan
As Zarif pointed out during his discussions with the Taliban delegation, the Iranian regime was lobbying for the Taliban and stating that:
"political decisions cannot be made in a vacuum and an inclusive government must be formed in a participatory process and needs to consider all fundamental structures, institutions, and laws, such as the constitution."
In addition, in late January, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, tweeted:
"In today's meeting with the Taliban political delegation, I found that the leaders of this group are determined to fight the United States."
As the Afghan government and President Ashraf Ghani were still in control, the event apparently enraged the Afghan government. Chief of the General Staff of the Afghanistan National Army, Yasin Zia, responded to Shamkhani by tweeting:
"Unfortunately, your understanding, @aliskamkhani_ir, as the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council of the ongoing war in Afghanistan is inaccurate. The Taliban is not against the US, but it is against the people of Afghanistan. We act decisively against any group which is the enemy of people of Afghanistan."
Iran, as well as Pakistan, has long provided shelter to Taliban leaders. Taliban leaders have been traveling back on forth to Iran since 1996, when the Taliban first captured Kabul. For example, Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2016 that:
"Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed in Pakistan by an American drone last weekend after leaving Iran, where his family lives. U.S. officials say that Mullah Mansour regularly and freely traveled into and out of Iran."
The Iranian regime, like Pakistan, has long been providing Taliban with weapons and cash. In 2017, Rahmatullah Nabil, the former head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, accused the Iranian regime of providing the Taliban with arms and financial aid. In addition, two unnamed Western officials told Foreign Policy magazine in 2016 that the Iranian government was "providing Taliban forces along its border with money and small amounts of relatively low-grade weaponry like machine guns, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenades."
In the past, the Iranian regime used to hide its ties with Taliban; not anymore. Kayhan, a newspaper funded by the Office of Supreme Leader of Iran and considered a mouthpiece of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been attempting to change public opinion about the Taliban. "The Taliban today," Kayhan wrote recently, "is different from the Taliban that used to behead people." So far, there seems insufficient evidence if that is true. At the moment, it does not look that way. Reports keep surfacing about people inside Afghanistan being beheaded, women having their eyes gouged out for having a job, and children as young as 12 being "dragged out of their homes" to be used as sex slaves or for forced marriages to fighters.
The Iranian leaders' attempt to create a good picture of Taliban evidently created outrage among some Iranian people who do not hold such positive views about Taliban. Former Iranian diplomat Ali Khorram, for instance, warned the regime:
"Thinking that the Taliban will come under Tehran's command is tantamount to growing a snake up your sleeve. As far as Iran's national interests are concerned, the liberal government of Ashraf Ghani is a hundred times better than a radical ISIS-Taliban government."
While many countries -- including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland -- are evacuating their citizens from behind enemy lines and shutting their embassies in Kabul, the Iranian regime is celebrating the Taliban's takeover. Iran has kept its embassy as it was. As stated by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, quoted by the official news agency IRNA:
"The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Kabul is fully open and active. Iran's consulate general in Herat is also open and active".
The Iranian regime seems happy to build alliances with any government or terror group that shares Tehran's hatred towards Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Israel or the US.
One of the critical opportunities that the Iranian regime sees in Taliban's takeover is that the group can once again become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, or the Islamic State -- called effectively identical "Pepsis" to the Taliban's "Coke" -- that attack the United States.
In 2017, a trove of 470,000 documents released by the CIA also revealed close ties between Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the Iranian regime. A federal court ruling, found that "Iran furnished material and direct support for the 9/11 terrorists." At least eight of the hijackers passed through Iran before heading to the US. A US Federal District court ordered Iran, for its role in 9/11, to pay some of its victims more than $10 billion, although there may be no way to force Iran to comply. US Federal courts have also ruled that Iran still owes Americans $53 billion for Iran having bombed the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983 and other assaults.
As the Taliban's takeover has caused many people from Afghanistan to flee the country, while the Iranian regime claims that it has good relationships with Afghanistan, it has closed its borders to the refugees. According to Iran's Red Crescent (IIRC), Iran's interior ministry and the regime's guards at the border were detaining Afghan refugees and returning them back across the border to Afghanistan.
What we are seeing is that the Biden administration just handed the mullahs of Iran – as well as the Chinese, the Russians, the North Koreans and the Turks -- yet another victory as they all cheer the US failure in Afghanistan and celebrate the takeover of Central Asia by terrorists.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu