Last week American troops and Western allies departed from Bagram Air Base, the last US military base in Afghanistan. The last of the US forces stationed in the country are scheduled to be withdrawn by September 11, 2021.
The people of Afghanistan are now living in fear that their country is on the verge of a new and prolonged period of bloodshed, as the Taliban moves to seize back control of the country.
The world is watching, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is no different. In a report published on June 29, the Iranian Parliamentary Research Center has implicitly warned officials to stop supporting the Taliban in its ongoing fight with the government of Afghanistan.
Following the decision by US President Joe Biden to unconditionally withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban has sped up operations to occupy more of the country. It is now reported to control roughly a third of the country’s 421 districts and district centers. In response, the Afghan government has launched what it calls a National Mobilization effort to arm ordinary Afghans against the insurgents, and to boost local militias across the country.
To protect itself against air strikes and the well-armed and well-trained special units of the Afghan army, the Taliban has fought a dispersed war instead of concentrating on specific areas. The group has already achieved significant victories by following this strategy.
Even before the allied forces began their withdrawal, the Taliban controlled 22 percent of the land, in which around 5.5 million people lived. Now, with the rapid fall of disparate districts and amid the other political and security crises Afghanistan has to deal with, the fear that the Taliban will return to power has gripped both the people in this country and its neighbors.
Iranian Principalists’ Support for the Taliban
In Iran, a group of ultra-conservatives, represented in the media by the newspaper Kayhan and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), have sprung to the defense of the Taliban and suggested that Tehran should support them.
A few days ago, Kayhan, whose editor is a representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, published a column that sought to whitewash the Taliban’s crimes by arguing that this extremist Islamist group had “learned from the past”. In more than one broadcast, the IRIB’s TV program Jahan-Ara has also painted a sympathetic portrait of the Taliban.
Countless Iranians on social media, however, have expressed their disquiet at the Islamic Republic’s covert support for the Taliban and have railed against the movement coming back to power.
The Iranian Parliamentary Research Center is run by conservatives in the 11th parliament. Despite this, its most recent report has more in common with ordinary Iranians’ views and has warned against Iran facilitating a return of the Taliban.
Afghanistan from Four Points of View
The Center’s report takes in the views of several different Iranian analysts on the issue of the Taliban’s apparent return. The first group’s view is summarized thus: “Today’s Taliban is in no way different to the Taliban of the 1990s”. The second, however, believes: “There have been fundamental changes to the ideological foundations and identity of today’s Taliban.”
The third group takes a more pragmatic view: “To reduce international opposition to its return to power, the Taliban needs to temporarily groom itself to present a more acceptable face both domestically and internationally; it will behave more moderately for the sake of appearances, but these changes are deceptive.”
The fourth group believes the nature of Taliban has not changed all that much, but, politically speaking, “it wants to form a government that presents a relatively different outlook, to put other countries at ease.
“In its new scheme, the Taliban has accepted limited changes in relation to women, minorities and children, and is trying to reassure other countries that its diplomatic missions are safe and the unpleasant events of the past will not be repeated.”
After presenting this classification, the Parliamentary Research Center goes on to discuss the consequences of a Taliban victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran.
It argues: “Considering the strong domestic resistance to the Taliban’s return to power, chances are high that Afghanistan will sink into instability if the Taliban takes over the government.” If this happens, the authors assert, “civil war and instability in Afghanistan would ensue.”
The Taliban as a Threat to Iran’s Security
The report also warns that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan “could turn this country into a haven for terrorist groups and fertile ground for new extremist groups... the emergence of terrorist threats in areas around Iran would affect the domestic security of Iran as well.”
In addition, it states: “Domestic instability in Afghanistan following possible [armed] conflicts between the Taliban and the people would lead to the emigration of Afghans seeking asylum in other countries.”
The report also warns that given past discrimination against Shia Muslims by the Taliban, there is a distinct possibility that Shia Afghans would be subjected to extensive restrictions and deprivations of their liberty.
The authors advise the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to initiate talks to prevent “the spread of armed clashes between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan.”
“There is no military solution for the crisis in Afghanistan,” the authors state. “None of the parties to the conflict in this country are able to establish a stable government and, if the power vacuum resulting from the withdrawal of American combat forces is not resolved by political agreement, the country will once again sink into a civil war, undermining security along Iranian borders.”
As soon as possible, the report says, Tehran must advance negotiations aimed at achieving four key goals: “Reducing violence and immediate ceasefire; initiating talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government; expediting early elections; and the formation of an inclusive national government.”
Mashhad Researchers Warn of Fresh Afghanistan Conflict
The Mashhad-based Institute for Shargh Strategic Studies has also published an analysis that foresees a possible “long civil war and the breakup of Afghanistan” in the coming years.
The institute puts forward four scenarios for the future of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops, the first and most likely of which is civil war. The three others are the “continuation of the current political system”, an “agreement on dividing power between the Taliban and key powers in Afghanistan” and “rapid advances by the Taliban on the battlefield and in the political arena.” But, it warns, “if the Taliban takes power in Kabul as the official government, it will have to fight to preserve this achievement.”
Furthermore, the Mashhad researchers state, “The tools used by international actors cannot protect the existing legal regime and the constitutional system in Afghanistan. Factors such as money, international legitimacy and occasional military attacks could push the Taliban to better adhere to its commitments and reduce the level of despotism. But it cannot turn the Taliban into a democratic government.”