Afghanistan and Iran have always been in a complicated relationship. These two countries share religious ties but never had good relationships. The turbulent emergence of Revolutionary Iran coincided with the conquest of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union some four decades ago. Iran is an ambitious regional player with a strong view of its complex world and a deliberate attempt to map a path through it. The rotten relationships of both countries are because of the fluctuating pattern of its interactions with the relevant stakeholders.
Unremitting opposition to the United States is also one of the reasons for conflict between these two countries. Unites States is a strong partner of the Kabul regime. Iran has had a history of theological differences and political rivalry with the Afghan Taliban as a Shia-dominant region. Iran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, a non-Pashtun grouping of other ethnic groups, during the ill-fated Taliban rule in the late 1990s. According to US and Afghan officials, Iran is financing aid programs and developing intelligence networks across Afghanistan, moving to fill the gap that would be left by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
For years, Iranian funding has been enjoyed by many leading Afghan government officials. President Hamid Karzai admitted in 2010 that his office had obtained daily cash suitcases from Tehran. In the future, Afghanistan will face a lot of problems because it is economically dependent on Iran for its assistance. Economic aid for restoration and support in the cultural and educational fields and security relations have been Iran’s goals. Support and assistance have been offered by non-governmental institutions as well such as the Iranian Red Crescent Society. Providing fresh water sources to 20,000 settled Afghan refugees in eastern Iran is an internationally funded Iranian Red Crescent initiative. Years of drought and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan have exacerbated the complicated water situation there. The International Federation is also preparing to increase the number of people supported significantly.
Iran has participated in the UN Afghanistan Conferences and is the chief sponsor of the ECO headquarters in Tehran. President Karzai, who respects the generous assistance of Iran, has also reportedly opposed its rebuilding efforts, saying that Iran is attempting to hinder the growth of Afghanistan. Although the Iranian government has been shouldering a heavy burden in coping with the influx and has reacted well in certain ways, Iran has not allowed newly arrived Afghans to register as asylum seekers since at least 2007. A large number of Afghans returned to Afghanistan from Iran and other countries in the years immediately following the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, with an estimated 2.3 million people returning in 2002 alone. More than 1 million Afghans have returned home, one-fifth of them involuntarily, from neighboring Pakistan and Iran this year, in the biggest wave of refugees returning to Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Wednesday. Although some Afghans returned to their homeland with joy, many others were forced to return by growing animosity and aggression in Iran.
Since 2001, several other government initiatives seem to be designed to force Afghans to surrender their refugee status. In addition to the arduous conditions of the Amayesh scheme , the Iranian government introduced a 2012 program in which a residence permit valid for one year is given to Afghan refugees in exchange for giving up their refugee status. Several countries have accused Iran of recruiting, funding, and supplying arms and safe havens for non-state terrorist actors since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and other Palestinian factions (Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)). Militant proxies have served the government of the Ayatollahs as an agent of both domestic and foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
The United States and the Taliban signed an agreement on February 29, 2020 specifying a phased withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in return for Taliban promises not to allow attacks from Afghanistan on the US or its allies.
The funding of militancies by Iran has bridged theological differences and political divisions; Tehran has supplied weapons and training for groups such as the Gama’a al-Islamiyah, the Egyptian al-Jihad, and the Algerian GIA. For more than a decade, Al-Qaida has also benefited from Iranian support and skills. More recently, this funding for al-Qaeda activists trying to create a foothold in Lebanon has taken the form of free passage. The US State Department finds Iran to be the most active state sponsor of terrorism.
Iran perceives the US military presence in Kabul a part of the larger plan to enclose Tehran’s power. This perceived threat has brought it to common ground with the Taliban, which is in conflict with the US army for the past years; the saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has resulted into reconciliation between Iran and Taliban. Both share a mutual hostility against the upsurge of ISIS’s local associate in the region, ISKP, as well. Although they share impermanent interests, nevertheless, it is still extremely uncertain whether Iran’s direct and indirect provision for the Taliban will permanently gain Iran any true influence in Iran, especially after the Taliban regain power after US withdrawal. Ultimately, Iran-Taliban cooperation is fundamentally unprincipled and an alliance of convenience.