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Iran Concerned Over Diplomats As West Prepares Kabul Evacuation

As Taliban forces continued to sweep Afghanistan following the ending of a two-decade United States military presence, Rasoul Mousavi, director-general foreign ministry and assistant to the minister, said Tehran had received assurances from the Taliban over staff in Iran’s consulate in Herat.

"Herat is now under the control of the forces of the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban],” Mousavi tweeted Thursday evening. “Consul General, diplomats and the staff of the consulate are inside the building. We are in constant communication with them.” In another tweet Friday morning, Mousavi wrote that "like the diplomats of three other countries present in Herat," the Iranians were in "full health and security and have no concerns."

Iran has a consulate-general in several Afghan cities – including Herat and ,Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city – that fell to the Taliban Thursday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Twitter Friday urged the Taliban, given its takeover of Herat, to ensure “the complete safety and health of diplomats and diplomatic facilities.”

Iran also has consulates in Mazar-i Sharif and Jalalabad, which remain under government control. In a statement on Thursday, the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i Sharif said it had transferred all activities to Kabul "for a limited period" due to the escalation of the war in northern Afghanistan.

In 1998, when the Taliban were establishing a period of rule that lasted until the US-led 2001 invasion, the group killed ten Iranian diplomats and a journalist in the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i Sharif, prompting Tehran to sever diplomatic relations. Iran was at the time supportive of the rival Northern Alliance, and Taliban rule in Afghanistan would be recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Taliban fighters pose for a photo on August 10, 2021

Tomorrow too late

Reuters reported Friday that western countries were preparing to evacuate diplomatic staff from Kabul. In a tweet Wednesday after meeting with European ambassadors in Tehran, Mousavi had urged Europe to act before the collapse of all structures in Afghanistan: "Tomorrow would be too late." Reuters cited a US defense official who said the Taliban could take Kabul within 90 days.

US planes have carried out strikes against Taliban targets this week, while President Joe Biden has defended his decision to go ahead with troop withdrawals agreed by previous president Donald Trump with the “Islamic Emirate” (the Taliban) in February 2020, ending a 19-year military presence that has cost $2 trillion.

The looming return to power of the Taliban poses challenges for Iran, which co-operated with the US in its 2002 invasion having had bitter relations with the Taliban going back before 1998. Herat's capture by the Taliban could unleash an influx of refugees to Iran, which already hosts millions of Afghan refugees and economic migrants, putting further stress on Iran’s sanctioned economy and healthcare system.

On July 8 the Taliban seized two important border crossings with Iran, at Islam Qala in Herat province and at Abu Nasr Farahi in western Farah province, when Iran-brokered talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government had just concluded with a joint statement pledging commitment to a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict. 

Hamshahri newspaper on Wednesday reported that thousands of Afghans who had fled to Iran's Hirmand, in Sistan-Baluchestan province, after the Taliban takeover of Zaranj were sent back to Afghanistan. The paper also reported that 145 Afghan military personnel who had fled to Iran were flown back to Kabul with their vehicles and equipment handed over to the Iranian army. Iranian border guards and army were trying to control border crossings to prevent an influx of refugees, the newspaper reported.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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