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What is Iran After in Afghanistan?

Javad Naji



During his visit to Kabul a few days ago, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, Iranian Foreign Ministery’s Special envoy in Afghanistan, met with several Afghan government officials and political leaders.

According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, during his visit to Afghanistan, Taherian discussed the development of mutual relations, updates in Afghanistan's political situation, the peace process and cooperation between the two countries in the fight against the spread of the new Coronavirus.

On Sunday, April 19, Taherian met separately with President Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, the self-proclaimed President of Afghanistan, Hamdollah Moheb, National Security Advisor, and Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the Afghan Foreign Minister. He then met with political leaders, including Hamid Karzai, the former President, Salahuddin Rabbani, the former Foreign Minister, Mohammad Karim Khalili, the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, Mohammad Mohaqiq, the former deputy Chief Executive, Amir Ismail Khan and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the jihadi leaders.


The President of Afghanistan downplayed the importance of this trip and said that in a meeting with the Iranian Special Representative, they discussed the completion of the Iran-Herat railway station, the fall in the number of the return of migrants, the peace process and regional issues.

But Abdullah Abdullah said he had met with Ebrahim Taherian to discuss the regional agreement over peace and the fight against the new Coronavirus. The office of the Afghan National Security Council also issued a statement saying that in his meeting with Hamdallah Moheb, Ebrahim Taherian emphasized Iran's support for Afghanistan.

Over the past few years, the Islamic Republic has been one of the most active countries in Afghanistan, but Iran’s activity has reached a new high in Afghanistan now that there are two presidents and the ambiguous state of the political situation and the peace process. What is Iran after in Afghanistan?

Perhaps the main purpose of Taherian's visit was to meet with Muhammad Mohaqiq, the leader of the People’s Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan. He also spoke about intra-Afghan peace talks and the crisis caused by the country's elections. In a statement, Mohammad Mohaqiq quoted Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian: "the Islamic Republic wants a reasonable and fair agreement between the two leading electoral teams." Mohaqiq’s response was: "We are trying to solve the problem of the elections through constructive dialogue and the mediation and efforts of the country's political elite and the help of our friends by the end of next week."

But this stance provoked an immediate reaction from the president's top adviser. Shahid Hossein Mortazavi reacted to Iran's efforts to resolve the election crisis between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, saying: "Our neighboring country is prescribing a cooperative version of government for us. If this version were successful, how come Mr. Ahmadinejad didn’t prescribe it for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi?"

Following the announcement of the final results of the Afghan presidential election, Iran and Russia were the two countries that did not congratulate Ashraf Ghani on his victory. Last month, Iran's foreign ministry called for "the creation of an inclusive government with the participation of all factions and political groups in Afghanistan." The Iranian Foreign Ministry had stated that with the formation of the government in Afghanistan, "the groundwork will be laid for the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue with the participation of all political groups, including the Taliban." At the time, the Afghan government, especially the circle close to Ashraf Ghani, did not like Iran's stance on the election results and the Afghan Foreign Ministry accused Iran of not fully understanding the crisis in Afghanistan. Russia has taken a similar position to Iran. Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union have accepted Ashraf Ghani as the winner of the election. The rift has raised concerns that the case of Syria could be repeated in Afghanistan.

Ahmad Saeedi, an expert on Afghanistan's political issues, told Iran International that the Islamic Republic’s activities in Afghanistan are not a new issue, and that Iran is also active in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, and even Central Asia. According to Saeedi, now that the Afghan presidential election is in a political deadlock, and "The United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan, Iran, as a neighboring country, wants to have friends in Afghanistan and play a role in its affairs." 


Who is Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian?


According to Abbas Farasu, a former charge d'affaires of the Afghan Embassy in Australia, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian is one of the most experienced Iranian diplomats who should have retired after completing his tenure as ambassador to Turkey; however, he became the main assistant to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif in Afghan affairs. Farasu added that Taherian became Iran's representative for Afghanistan last year when talks between the United States and the Taliban were underway in Qatar.

Abbas Farasu believes that Iran and India have no place in the new American plan in the Afghan peace process, and it is no coincidence that now Ebrahim Taherian went to Kabul to meet with Afghan leaders.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Taherian's American counterpart, referred to Taherian's pivotal role in the 2001 International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn and wrote:

"The initial meeting with the Iranians paved the way for friendly and constructive relations between US and Iranian representatives during the conference. Every morning, James Dobbins [former US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan] and I drank coffee with Mohammad Javad Zarif and [Mohammad Ebrahim] Taherian. These informal gatherings were very effective. We talked about our professional background and established personal relationships. These relationships facilitated formal dialogues on political issues. It was over those coffee drinking sessions, that we learned about Taherian's deep knowledge of Afghanistan. He had spent a long time with the communist leaders of Afghanistan. Contrary to conventional historical accounts, Taherian believed that Najibullah was not killed by the Taliban. According to him, Pakistani officers shot the communist leader before his body was hung from a pole on the streets of Kabul. I saw our engagement with the Iranians as part of a larger effort to secure regional support for the post-Taliban Afghanistan."


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