Iran’s assertiveness post US-Taliban peace agreement reason for its criticism of India

March 7, 2020 8:46 PM

Iran has been known to have maintained close relations with the Taliban. A Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited Iran in end November 2019 and held negotiations with Iranian officials on the peace process, then in the pipeline.

The US- Taliban Peace Agreement had the tacit backing of Iranians. (Reuters)

By Brig Nalin Bhatia

Post Peace Accord signed in Doha on 29 February between USA and Taliban, Iran seems to be coming out of the closet to assert its position and play a more prominent role. Along with the Taliban, the Iranians must be the happiest entities in the just concluded the signing of US-Taliban Peace Agreement.

Iran has been known to have maintained close relations with the Taliban. A Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited Iran in end November 2019 and held negotiations with Iranian officials on the peace process, then in the pipeline.

It would therefore not be wrong to summarise that the US- Taliban Peace Agreement had the tacit backing of Iranians. Mullah Baradar thanking Iran post-signing of the Agreement was as much an admission of the fact.

The close relations between the two can be attributed to their extreme ideology; a puritan brand of Islam, although at diverse ends. The two sides had been at conflict with each at the time of US push against the Taliban in North Afghanistan two decades ago. But a common adversary in the USA seems to have forced the two sides to reconcile their differences.

The immediate reason for the Iranian support is primarily to see the back of US and NATO forces from its immediate backyard. That would provide Iran independence to operate with impunity and extend support to its close Shia allies mostly amongst the Hazara ethnic community who wield influence in western Afghanistan.

The exit of the USA from Afghanistan would further fulfil Iranian ambition to emerge as the undisputed leader of the anti-US Islamic world that it is trying to emerge in the middle- east through effective use of its proxies.

Iran and Taliban have mended relations post-emergence of US-supported government in Afghanistan and providing sanctuaries to its cadres and leadership. It may be remembered that Mullah Akhtar Mansour, then chief of the Taliban was killed in a drone attack in May 2016 while on his way from Iran where he had been staying for a long time, signifying that he had Iranian support for his stay and close bonds between Iran and the Taliban.

Post killing of General Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack on 3 January, Iran had reportedly sought the help of the Taliban to increase the intensity of attacks against US targets in North and Western Afghanistan.

The crash of US E-11 surveillance aircraft claimed to be shot by Taliban on 28 Jan and reportedly carrying CIA’s top official D ‘Andrea, overseeing US intelligence operations in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and responsible for the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, has been attributed to Iranian assistance although the US has not acknowledged the death of its official.

The recent visit of US President Trump to New Delhi and increasing economic and defence ties between the two countries may have forced Iran to chart out a fresh path with the backing of China. With almost negligible trade between the two countries, Iran would be looking up increasingly to China and its allies which are all abutting its eastern and southern borders for economic support.

The development of Chabahar which has been in the works close to two decades has not been encouraging. With the emergence of the Taliban the future of India-Afghanistan-Iran Trilateral Agreement for development of Chabahar would also in jeopardy. Taliban most probably would prefer to trade through the traditional route through Pakistan as that would help its core support base in South Afghanistan. Iran has already invited China to join in the development of Chabahar. China would be more than willing to join as the same would give a push to its connectivity through BRI.

India has been taken by surprise at the sudden Iranian reactions to events that are totally internal. Iran has seldom commented on events in Jammu and Kashmir although Pakistan sponsored insurgency has engulfed the state for nearly three decades. Similarly, it has never commented on India’s internal matters in the past.

To the contrary, Iran should have long back commented on the plight of Uyghur Muslims who continue to face persecution and confinement within their own homeland, if it was genuinely claiming to champion the cause of Muslims.

The harsh statement of Iranian supreme leader preceded by Iranian foreign minister, therefore, needs to be seen in the backdrop of a China-backed Pakistan-Iran-Taliban alignment emerging in Indian immediate neighbourhood.

The fast-paced developments in the Indian neighbourhood should have the Indian establishment worried.

India’s challenges are many

First and foremost would be to open channels of communication with all the stakeholders including Afghanistan and Iran and assure them about the significance of remaining engaged for mutual benefits.

Secondly, India should play real politics and look for avenues to engage with new power dispensation as and when it is in place in Kabul.

Thirdly India will need to leverage its relationship with Russia and China for a meaningful role in the region.

Fourthly it will have to prepare to confront a new wave of threats that may emerge on the western front.

Finally, India will need to remind Iran of the shared ties and the importance of holding out to each other.

(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)

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