Iranian security concerns grow due to Taliban actions

Iranian security concerns grow due to Taliban actions

The Taliban’s pledge not to allow Afghan territory to become a haven for foreign fighters does not seem to be watertight (AFP)
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Under the 2020 Doha Agreement, the Taliban pledged not to allow Afghan territory to turn into a haven for foreign fighters. However, this pledge does not seem to be watertight. The increase in strength of the Pakistani Taliban since the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and the alleged deep links between Afghanistan’s Taliban and Daesh Khorasan Province — despite their divergent objectives and ideologies — indicate that the Taliban have turned their back on allies during hard times, totally breaking with their past: that is, the mujahideen overseas. The group seems not to consider the concerns of the international community or Afghanistan’s neighbors.

According to a January 2023 report by the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, members of Al-Qaeda had been identified as working within the administrative and security institutions of the Taliban government. The report also suggested that the Daesh Khorasan Province group had expanded the scope of its activities in response to this development.

Furthermore, responsibility for an August 2023 assault on a police headquarters in Sistan and Balochistan, southeastern Iran, that resulted in 12 fatalities and eight injuries was claimed by the Balochi group Jaish Al-Adl. Information about Jaish Al-Adl reveals that it is an armed group whose formation was declared in 2012, after Iran had executed Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of the Baloch group Jundallah. The Iranian authorities label this group as terrorist and refer to it as Jaish Al-Zulm (Army of Injustice).

The highest-ranking security officials in three border provinces belong to Balochi groups opposed to the Iranian regime

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

As proof of the rapprochement between Jaish Al-Adl and the Taliban, the former head of the National Directorate of Security in Afghanistan Rahmatullah Nabil last month wrote on X: “In 2021, Jaish Al-Adl fought in several Afghan provinces in support of the Taliban against the forces of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They seized Nimruz province, the first province to be captured by the Taliban.” He cited the Qur’anic verse: “Is there any reward for good other than good?” Of course, Nabil meant that the time was ripe for the Taliban not to withhold any support for Jaish Al-Adl.

Six months earlier, Nabil wrote an article titled “Iran, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: A Strategic Move or a Matter of Expediency?” In it, he considered the rapport between these three to be tactical. He concluded that such an alliance of various ideologies cannot be sustained for a long time. They deploy the carrot-and-stick policy toward one another. It is unlikely that this alliance will become strategic. Nabil also pointed to the anti-Taliban dissidents in Iran, including the mujahideen commanders, former Afghan security personnel and the Fatemiyoun Brigade, all of whom could be exploited to put pressure on the Taliban.

In this context, we cannot overlook what was revealed last month by Mohammed Hossein Jafarian, an Iranian journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, in an interview with Afghanistan International. He said that the highest-ranking security officials in three Afghan border provinces belong to Balochi groups opposed to the Iranian regime.

According to Jafarian, in the Afghan province of Herat, an official named Moulavi Tawhidi, a separatist Balochi, presides over all security affairs. He was also the right-hand man of Rigi. Meanwhile, Qari Ziai is responsible for all security affairs in Farah province, which neighbors Iran’s South Khorasan. He is also an Iranian Balochi separatist and was one of the commanders of Rigi’s group. And in the province of Farah and city of Zaranj, neighboring Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan province, another Balochi separatist and close Rigi aide, Abdulmalik Mullazadeh, looks after all security affairs.

In the interview, Jafarian reiterated that the crisis of Iran’s share in the Helmand River and the border skirmishes between the two nations arise from this issue. Perhaps there could be a certain backdrop to these appointments and that the Taliban regime granted these officials Afghan citizenship and views them as Afghan citizens. But of course Iran views them differently.

Iran fully understands that any escalation with the Taliban, a militant group, would be unmanageable

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

For example, when this month’s bombings in Kerman took place on Qassem Soleimani’s death anniversary, Jomhouri Eslami newspaper wrote an article titled “Security won’t be provided by rhetoric.” It pointed to the appointment of these three figures in the Afghan provinces neighboring Iran. In this context, the newspaper posed a legitimate question: Have all these appointments been made accidentally, without an ulterior motive? Are Iran’s officials heedless of the deep links between the Taliban and Daesh Khorasan Province and the role they play in misleading and avoiding the Taliban being blameworthy?

The newspaper added that Tehran’s security and intelligence services need to be more vigilant when dealing with Iran’s eastern borders due to Afghanistan-based groups’ efforts to undermine the country’s security.

Despite evidence of Daesh Khorasan Province fighters entering Iran from Afghanistan and having received training in the country, the Iranian regime decided to strike Pakistan last week. It carried out a missile and drone attack on the west of the country. Iran’s foreign minister said that the attack targeted Jaish Al-Adl, which he described as an “Iranian terrorist group” in Pakistan.

In response, Islamabad recalled its ambassador to Tehran and blocked Iran’s from returning. Pakistan’s armed forces also launched retaliatory strikes targeting Balochi terrorists around the city of Saravan.

This heated escalation seems to have settled down for now, with both sides willing to resume diplomatic relations, but the outstanding question remains: If the Kerman attackers came from Afghanistan, why did Iran decide to strike Pakistan and not Afghanistan? The answer is simple, by targeting a state that respects international norms and understands the importance of diplomacy to settle conflicts, Iran was aware that its escalation with Pakistan would be quickly managed and controlled. On the other hand, it fully understood any escalation with the Taliban, a militant group, would be unmanageable, as the Taliban does not consider the importance of international norms or the role of diplomatic mechanisms to settle conflicts.

We believe that the Taliban and Iran are attempting to exert pressure on each other, though the former have reassured Iranian officials that Afghan territories will never become a launching pad for attacks against neighboring countries. In return, Iran has reassured the Taliban that it will not back opposition against it. However, it is clear that expelling Afghan migrants, hosting anti-Taliban dissidents and controlling the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which is trained by the IRGC, are all tools used by Iran to put pressure on the Taliban. The Taliban is well aware of this.

Still, the appointment of members of extremist groups operating outside of Afghanistan to the security services and Balochis to security positions in the Afghan provinces neighboring Iran are alarming developments that have raised Tehran’s concerns about the security threat lurking along its eastern border.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). X: @mohalsulami


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