By Iran Review
By Seyyedeh Motahhareh Hosseini*
At present, the activities of radical groups in Afghanistan have hit the headlines because of the operations carried out by the Taliban and ISIS, as the Taliban have started a new and serious phase of their activities in the war-torn country. Before the resurgence of this group’s activities and as a result of efforts made by the Afghan government, the Taliban had for the first time entered into talks with the government in Kabul, which was a very positive development for an ideological group that excommunicates others on religious grounds.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a regional partner, which has long borders with Afghanistan, has been and still is exposed to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Some reports have alleged that the Islamic Republic’s secret services have met with the leaders of the Taliban and the Islamic government of Afghanistan in Tehran in a bid to control radical groups whose activities are against stability and security in the region and in order to prod both sides to follow their negotiations more diligently.
In the meantime, the activities of the Taliban have continued along southern and northern borders of the country, including through bomb attacks in the city of Kandahar, which climaxed in the recent huge bomb blast that devastated state buildings in capital, Kabul, and killed tens of people in an unprecedented manner.
There is a mentality among Oriental people that when they hear such news and reports, they usually ascribe these activities to foreign sources that organize, guide and take instrumental advantage of such radical groups whose common characteristic is usually ignorance and profound poverty of their members.
Therefore, some circles have noted that due to the high degree of instability in Tajikistan as a result of the government’s opposition to Islamist groups, and in view of the shaky stability in Uzbekistan, which has been brought about through suppression of Islamist groups, there are fertile grounds for the spillover of unrest from northern part of Afghanistan to Central Asia, in which case, the region will become a focus of insecurity close to borders of both China and Russia.
However, reports circulating inside Afghanistan have correctly pointed an incriminating finger toward Pakistan as the main culprit that has been instigating the Taliban to give up negotiations with the Afghan government. They believe that this is why Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the new leader of the Taliban, has announced that his group will not cease its fight against the government of Afghanistan until an Islamic state takes its place. Therefore, it is obvious that Pakistan is taking advantage of radical fundamentalists as a tool in its foreign policy.
At present, the Islamic Republic is critical of instability that stems from political interpretations of religion in the region and considers itself a victim of the turmoil in its neighboring countries. It seems that insecurity in these countries is not supposed to reach its end. Despite sanctions, being neighbor to generally poor countries afflicted with domestic tension, and major wars in the region, Iran has been able to maintain its economic structure, relative stability inside the country, and security along its borders while its foreign policy apparatus has been smartly able to prevent the country from getting dragging into the vortex of regional conflicts in the past decades.
Therefore, Tehran considers any form of religious war at domestic and regional levels against its national interests. Obviously, domestic conditions in Iran, especially following the forthcoming parliamentary elections that are due in the winter and in view of the recent agreement reached over the country’s nuclear issue, will direct the Islamic Republic toward certain reforms both within and without.
In terms of foreign relations, despite widespread military conflicts in the Middle East region and Turkey’s involvement in the Syria war, Iran would possibly move toward mending fences with global powers, though it will also maintain its relations with regional powers relatively within the previous limits. This issue would depend on the approach taken by powers that are involved in the Middle East, especially the United States and the European Union, and would allow Iran to decide how to take advantage of the opportunities it has been offered.
Up to the present time, it has been proven that the foreign policy of Iran follows a resilient logic, which has been founded and proceeds on the basis of the opportunities and aims to avert threats ahead. Therefore, the type of the interaction that the global powers will choose to have with Iran will enable the Islamic Republic to redefine its policy in the region, especially along its eastern borders.
As a result of the new situation in Afghanistan – which has been created due to resurgence of the Taliban and proclaimed presence of ISIS terrorist group in that country – Iran must increase its sensitivity and adopt suitable policies to counter this situation. In view of all regional leverage that Iran has in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, it should react to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in this region with an eye on future regional coalitions.
Such a reaction can be similar to the limited cooperation that Iran had with the United States in the war with the Taliban – by making its airspace available, relaxing its strict control of land borders, exchange of intelligence, and border control to collect the Taliban forces for occasional swap or submission to the other side – or take on a harder and more confrontational form. There is no doubt that the type of interaction that the NATO and US forces will have with Iran and existence of a true determination on the part of Pakistan to fight destabilizing terrorism, will have very important effects on Iran’s future policies in this regard.
* Seyyedeh Motahhareh Hosseini
Assistant Professor of Political Science & Expert on Central Asia and Caucasus Affairs