“The supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban targeted by the drone strike”

An interesting article notes the links between Iran and the Taliban, “On May 21, after a drone strike obliterated a car and its two occupants in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, local officials discovered a Pakistani passport, miraculously intact, amid the smoldering wreckage and two bodies charred beyond recognition. The passport belonged to a man identified as Wali Muhammad. Its photo bore an uncanny resemblance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban targeted by the drone strike, who lay dead close by. According to reports in the Pakistani press, the passport indicated that its owner, presumably Mullah Mansour, had been returning from Iran, where he had been since April 26. He had also traveled there for several weeks in February and March. Mullah Mansour’s decision to visit Iran and leave his sanctuary in Balochistan — where the Afghan Taliban’s top leadership had long been safely ensconced — is odd. After all, Tehran is no friend of the Taliban; on the contrary, it has formally aligned itself with Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban actors. It played an instrumental role at the 2001 Bonn Conference that established a post-Taliban government. In the early years of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran gave Washington maps showing Taliban positions, and its military offered to train 20,000 Afghan troops”.

The article adds “Iran also has good reason to distance itself from the Taliban. Simple sectarian considerations — Iran is Shiite, the Taliban is Sunni — offer one explanation. But the divergences run deeper: The Taliban harbours links to Jundallah, an anti-state Sunni terror group in Iran. It oversees a flourishing narcotics trade that feeds Iran’s crippling heroin epidemic, and it has been blamed for the killings of nearly a dozen Iranian diplomats at their consulate in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, which brought Iran and Taliban-run Afghanistan to the brink of war (according to some accounts, the Pakistani anti-Shiite militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba was behind that attack). Western authorities have a simple explanation for Mullah Mansour’s presence in Iran: He was there to receive medical treatment, according to a European official quoted in the New York Times, in order to avoid Pakistani hospitals and the watchful eye of his patron, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. No specifics were given as to what he was being treated for. The Wall Street Journal, curiously, has reported that Mullah Mansour was actually in Iran to visit family. In any case, U.S. officials knew of his whereabouts and, aided by communications intercepts, were able to track him there. According to a tweet by NPR correspondent Tom Bowman, Washington even had his SIM card number”.

The report goes on, “Mullah Mansour’s trip to Iran may well have been a simple trip to the doctor. But the trip may have had more nefarious purposes, too. Despite the differences between Tehran and the Taliban, they share some key interests and have often cooperated operationally. Indeed, Tehran and the Taliban have a more symbiotic relationship than meets the eye. In particular, they are both wary of the West and particularly the United States. And each seeks to undercut Washington’s influence. Thomas Joscelyn, an international security analyst and senior editor with the Long War Journal, has presented a compelling case of long-standing links between Iran and the Taliban. These links date back to 2000, when, according to unclassified U.S. government memos, Mullah Mohammed Omar tasked Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, the Taliban governor of Herat province, with improving relations between the organization and Tehran. As a result of this outreach, Iran agreed to supply the Taliban with mines and small arms. (On two separate occasions in 2007 and 2011, international forces in Afghanistan intercepted arms shipments from Iran destined for the Taliban.) The two sides also inked an open border agreement that enabled the Taliban to smuggle money, goods, and fighters into Iran. Khairkhwa’s outreach laid the groundwork for a later, major triumph of Iran-Taliban cooperation: the 2012 opening of a Taliban office in the Iranian city of Zahedan, home to many of the several million Afghans residing in Iran”.

The writer goes on to make he point, “News reports over the last year suggest increased levels of Iranian cash and arms transfers to the Taliban. But why? One reason, which may also help explain Moscow’s recent outreach to the Taliban, is the shared unease about the rising influence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, where several thousand former Taliban fighters, most of them in the eastern province of Nangarhar, have declared their allegiance to the group. Some of Mullah Mansour’s supporters, demoralized by their leader’s sudden death, could join these Islamic State-aligned fighters. Another factor that may help explain Iran-Taliban comity is the Taliban’s desire to wean itself off Pakistani sanctuaries and other largesse. As I’ve written previously, NATO interviews with Taliban detainees reveal that many of the group’s leaders and fighters chafe at their reliance on Islamabad, a patron many Taliban members do not trust because of the tight control it likes to exert over them as well as its willingness to arrest those Taliban personnel deemed uncooperative. With the Taliban reeling from the death of Mullah Mansour in Balochistan — a sanctuary where the group had never felt vulnerable before — it may have an even stronger incentive to secure alternative arrangements that do not involve Pakistan. For the Taliban, this could amplify the utility of retaining, if not intensifying, its ties to Tehran — and particularly, as some observers have suggested, by using areas it controls in Afghanistan to work out arrangements with Iran to receive covert financial support”.

He ends “In reality, Tehran is likely to play a double game: It will continue to work with Kabul while providing covert support to the Taliban. The U.S.-Iran nuclear deal may have eased some of the tensions in U.S.-Iran relations, but the two nations have not magically become friends. Meanwhile, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which may not be drawn down as quickly as President Barack Obama had wished, will continue to trouble Iran, even if it is secretly reassured that U.S. forces could help bring a modicum of stability to Afghanistan. Furthermore, Iran is unlikely to simply wash its hands of an organization that controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since 2001. Ultimately, the complex ties between Tehran and the Taliban exemplify a slight variation of a well-known diplomatic dictum: The enemy of my enemy is my frenemy”.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: