With the U.S. wrapping up its military efforts in Afghanistan, many regional players are stepping in to carve up this country. Despite the efforts of various NGOs and the international community, it seems that democracy has been unable to take hold. The Taliban has begun to attempt to retake territory, forcing the central Afghanistan government to confront them once again.
In October 2016, a coordinated attack from the Taliban also demonstrated how Iran is attempting to step into the vacuum left by the departing American troops. But they aren’t the only ones. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan remain dominant players in the country. Still, it is the silent, but consistent, efforts of Iran that are drawing the attention of those familiar with the region.
Over the past decade and a half, the U.S. military has helped Iran by removing two of its chief enemies, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Iran has taken that advantage and used it as an opportunity to spread its influence. In Iraq, the regime has exploited a chaotic civil war and America’s withdrawal to create a satellite state. Goods from Iran cross into Iraq and it is clear that Iranian-backed militias are keeping a corridor open for Iranian troops and goods to move through Iraq.
Iran is hoping to do the same thing through Afghanistan or at worse, make sure that the new government does not threaten their interests. Iran doesn’t want stability, but they don’t want to tip the country into total chaos. It means a truce of sorts with the Taliban, at least along the shared border between the two countries.
Iran has conducted an intensifying covert intervention, much of which is only now coming to light. It is providing local Taliban insurgents with weapons, money and training to get high price from the U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan and threat the local government. It has offered Taliban commanders sanctuary and fuel for their trucks. It has padded Taliban ranks by recruiting among Afghan Sunni refugees in Iran, according to Afghan and Western officials.
“The regional politics have changed,” said Mohammed Arif Shah Jehan, a senior intelligence official who recently took over as the governor of Farah Province. “The strongest Taliban here are Iranian Taliban.”
Iran and the Taliban — longtime rivals, one Shiite and the other Sunni — would seem to be unlikely bedfellows, according to a series of articles by the New York Times.
Essentially, while the U.S. has done Iran a service in ridding it of two enemies, Iran clearly has determined that the U.S. has outlived its usefulness and is now determined to change the dynamics of the region. Iran is constantly working in the shadows, determined to tip the local politics in their favor, either through bribery, infiltration or violence.
Throughout the international community, many voices are speaking out against the lack of action to address the continued control that Iran is exerting throughout the Middle East. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has continued to speak out against what it calls the appeasement by the international community that wishes to exploit their financial ties to Iran without addressing these key issues.