Friday, March 1, 2024
 
 

Why the fall of Afghanistan sllows Iran to expand its influence

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Since 2020, the United States has been working to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The Americans’ announcement emboldened the Taliban, who recently took control of the country. The militant group’s rise to power has had numerous implications for domestic affairs. As the Taliban moves to establish an official government, foreign powers such as Iran are working to foster strong bilateral relations with the Taliban. If successful, these alliances could dramatically shift the balance of power in the Middle East.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States deployed troops in Afghanistan. Since then, the US has been embroiled in a 20-year war that cost billions of dollars and countless lives. In 2020, former President Donald Trump announced that Washington had brokered a peace deal with the Taliban. As per the deal, the US and its NATO allies would withdraw all of their troops from Afghanistan within 14 months, ending America’s longest war. In return, the Taliban promised it would help reduce violence in Afghanistan and prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

When President Joe Biden took power, he stated he would honor the previous administration’s deal with the Taliban. However, lawmakers and experts warned that the Taliban would not hold up its end of the agreement. As the US prepared to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban swept across the country, capturing a significant amount of territory in just ten days.

On August 15, the group captured Kabul and stated it would be establishing a government. The Taliban’s rise to power has had profound implications for security and human rights in Afghanistan. According to recent reports, Taliban forces have executed detained soldiers, police, and civilians who have supported the Afghan government. Additionally, despite assurances that they would respect women’s rights, the Taliban has barred women from attending school and cracked down on female protesters.

The Taliban’s resurgence also has numerous implications for the regional balance of power in the Middle East. In particular, the Taliban and Iran have begun fostering increasingly close relations, despite their religious differences. Although Iran is a predominantly Shiite Muslim nation and the Taliban is a Sunni Muslim institution, Iran has prioritized developing strong bilateral relations with the group. Indeed, Afghanistan is a critical trade partner.

Today, Afghanistan is one of the top importers of Iran’s non-oil exports. The country is also a crucial source of hard currency amid ongoing American sanctions against Tehran. Additionally, Iran often uses Afghanistan to supply oil and gas to partners such as China, India, Japan, and other nations in South and Southeast Asia. The Iranian regime is therefore heavily invested in ensuring that Afghanistan is a stable and peaceful nation.

The Iranian government also views this period of transition in Afghanistan as an opportunity to expand Tehran’s regional influence. Over the past few decades, Iran has implemented an aggressive policy of expansionism, seeking to establish itself as the dominant power in the Middle East. The Iranian regime has established, funded, and armed numerous proxy groups, including in Yemen, Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, and Syria. These groups have heavily contributed to regional violence and instability to help Tehran achieve its foreign policy goals. Some of these groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, are also designated internationally as terrorist organizations.

When the US left Afghanistan, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi celebrated the occasion, stating that the American occupation was to blame for many of Afghanistan’s problems and that the US’ withdrawal from the country would enable Afghanistan to promote peace, security, and stability.

However, Tehran and Kabul’s relations are not without complications. Afghanistan’s third-largest ethnic group, the Hazara’s, is a Shiite Muslim group that has long faced discrimination at the hands of the Taliban. When Afghanistan established its interim government in early September, most Cabinet positions went to Pashtun Afghans, while no posts went to members of the Hazara community.

Iran has encouraged the Taliban to establish an inclusive government representing all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, including the Hazaras. Additionally, some Iranians are not in favor of the country adopting a pro-Taliban stance. Indeed, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran in early September, condemning the Taliban regime. During a recent speech, Esmail Ghaani, the Commander of the Quds Force, said Iran would take a “realistic” approach to its relations with the Taliban, recognizing the tensions between the two nations.

Esmail Ghaani, commander of Iran’s Quds force.

Nonetheless, if Iran can foster and maintain strong relations with the Taliban, it will expand its economic and political power in the region. However, as many experts have flagged, Iran has already fuelled significant violence and instability in the Middle East. If Tehran succeeds in taking advantage of the current vacuum in Afghanistan, it will likely lead to more conflict and chaos.

The Taliban’s resurgence has already had a significant influence on the state of democracy, human rights, and freedom in Afghanistan. As the militant group works to establish an official government, countries like Iran are developing strong bilateral relations with the group. If these alliances are successful, they will radically alter the distribution of geopolitical power and influence in the Middle East.

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