A Taliban delegation headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Head of the Taliban Political Office, visited Tehran on 26 January for talks with Iranian leaders on the peace process in Afghanistan. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said that the delegation’s visit, headed by Deputy Leader Mullah Ghani Baradar, was made at the official invitation from Tehran. “A delegation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan consisting of senior officials went to Tehran to exchange ideas with Iranian officials on relations between the two countries, the situation of Afghan refugees, and the political and security issues in the region,” said Mohammad Naeem, Spokesperson for the Taliban’s Political Office in Doha, on his social media account. This tour, which took place at the invitation of Iran, was the second visit of the Taliban to Tehran in the last two months. Mullah Baradar had previously met with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, in Tehran, where he went with a delegation on 26 November. So, what does this visit mean with respect to the current international politics?
Under the Doha Agreement signed between the USA and the Taliban on 29 February 2020, the US forces will have to withdraw entirely from Afghanistan by next May. However, Washington has indicated that the deal should be amended or, at the very least, that the removal of US forces should be delayed until a later date. On 22 January, Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a phone call to Afghanistan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib that they will review the agreement signed with the Taliban. This was accompanied by similar remarks by Biden’s Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Washington’s comments raised concerns as to whether the Biden administration would abide by the Doha Agreement. During his election campaign, Biden has consistently claimed that he is in favor of retaining a small counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan. However, according to experts, a breach of the Doha Agreement is unlikely to be approved by the Taliban. “Joe Biden’s administration needs to be fully attentive to implementing the Doha agreement, which will end America’s longest war,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on 19 January.”
In recent weeks, a number of Afghan security forces have lost their lives in the intense attacks launched by the Taliban to take the Obe District of Herat, located on the Iranian border. The report prepared by the delegation sent to Herat by the Afghan Parliament’s Internal Security Commission on 25 January highlighted Iran’s role in the increasing chaos in the region. On the other hand, the Iranian embassy in Kabul had called the report of the Parliamentary delegation to Herat unfounded. The Taliban’s invitation to Tehran is an important warning to the new administration in Washington, DC. In the current scenario where the Taliban have escalated their attacks and talks begin about how the new US administration can implement its approach against Afghanistan. Tehran is mindful of the deadlock facing the current government of Washington in Afghanistan. So Tehran, which expects Biden to return to the Nuclear Deal, wants to send a message via the Taliban that it is still one of the major protagonists in the Afghanistan issue. On the other hand, there is also a related condition for the Taliban, who challenge Biden’s loyalty to the Doha Agreement. The Taliban has issued a warning that if the Washington administration breaks the deal, breaking the deal will bring consequences for future peace talks as well.
Iran will benefit immensely from a peaceful and stable Afghanistan in terms of trade and cultural relations. Iran is an important trading partner for Afghanistan, and Kabul has benefited greatly from expanded trade and communication with Iran. US sanctions against Iran may play a negative role in this respect for Afghanistan. Access to ports, rail, and road projects in Iran can significantly support the Afghan economy and reduce its dependency on Central Asia and Pakistan due to its landlocked existence. Iran also provides Afghanistan with a range of alternatives in terms of energy needs. For these reasons, Iran would like to have a stable government in Kabul, and the Afghan government would prefer to maintain its alliance with Iran intact.
Looking back at Iran’s Afghanistan strategy over the last 42 years, it is clear that the government of Iran has been very visionary at times. There is no question that Khomeini’s doctrine is the early driving force behind Iran’s policy in Afghanistan. It will remain key to Iran’s new strategy of realistic support for inclusive and multi-ethnic Afghanistan, which was founded on Islamic values. Iran has strengthened its strategic depth and secured substantial political, economic, and social influence in large part of Afghanistan. It does not need the US assistance to reinforce its position in or on Afghanistan in the country as a whole. The government of Iran, in turn, could demonstrate that, as a regional entity, it is capable of behaving wisely and constructively in the interests of Afghanistan as a sovereign state.