A senior Afghan official has accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of providing sanctuaries and material support to the Afghan Taliban.
The accusations follow allegations by Afghan officials that Tehran’s support enabled the Taliban to briefly capture a district in western Afghanistan last week.
The claims underscore the budding alliance between Iran’s Shi’ite clerical regime and Afghanistan’s hard-line Sunni Taliban, who were once each other’s sworn enemies.
Mohammad Arif Shahjahan, the governor of Farah Province in western Afghanistan, told Radio Free Afghanistan on July 31 that Tehran had provided safe havens to some Taliban leaders.
“Some Taliban leaders travel frequently to Iran,” he said. “They have hideouts there and are being aided with a lot of material resources.”
Shahjahan also said that while supporting the insurgents, operatives from the IRGC’s elite Quds Force recently met and advised the Taliban in Farah’s Pusht-e Koh and Gulistan districts. The Quds Force is IGRC’s special operations unit often seen as responsible for conducting covert operations outside Iran.
He said visits from Quds Force operatives are frequent in Farah, which shares a nearly 300-kilometer porous border with Iran’s southeastern provinces of South Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan.
Lawmaker Jamila Amini heads Farah’s provincial council. She told Radio Free Afghanistan that IRGC operatives are even using promises of sought-after residency in Iran to encourage families from various Farah districts to let their younger members fight for the insurgents.
“Iranian interference is direct. It is engaged in encouraging youth to join the insurgency in return for allowing their families to reside in Iran,” she said. “[In most cases,] one member of the family is required to fight in the insurgency in return for his family’s residency in Iran.”
While she and Shahjahan didn’t provide any evidence to back their accusations, Afghan officials in the western provinces bordering Iran are increasingly vocal about Tehran’s interference.
Last week, officials in neighboring Ghor Province accused Tehran of bankrolling a Taliban offensive to briefly overrun Taywara district.
Afghan forces claimed to have recaptured Taywara on July 29 after the Taliban held it for five days.
“Iran has supported the Taliban’s war against Afghan armed forces in Ghor to destroy Salma Dam in the neighboring province of Herat as well as demolishing the Poze Lich Hydropower plant that is currently under construction,” said Fazlul Haq Ihsan, head of Ghor’s provincial council.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid rejected accusations that his organization is being aided by Iran, which opposed the Taliban regime in the 1990s. The two came close to war in 1998 following a massacre of Iranian diplomats during the Taliban’s recapture of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.
The Iranian Embassy in Kabul did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian officials, however, have always maintained that they support the government in Kabul.
Incoming Iranian army chief Amir Ahmad Reza Pourdastan recently claimed his country now dominates intelligence over the activities of Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghan and Iraqi provinces along Iran’s border.
“We were able to gain good intelligence on the movements of IS affiliates in Iraq’s Diyala Province and in the three provinces of Afghanistan [bordering Iran],” Pourdastan was quoted as saying by Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.
Iran’s growing alliance with the Taliban is attributed to its quest to guard the ultra-radical IS militants from threatening its southeastern borders with Afghanistan. It is not a coincidence that Taliban militants have systematically eliminated IS cells in the Afghan provinces bordering Iran.
During the past two years, Iran’s alliance with the Taliban has apparently mushroomed to the extent that former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur was killed by a U.S. drone attack after returning from Iran in May 2016. Tehran, along with Moscow and Islamabad, is now seen as a major backer of the Afghan Taliban.
Iran’s alleged covert support for the Taliban is not the only issue plaguing relations between the neighboring countries. Earlier this month, Afghan officials reacted strongly to remarks by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about water projects in Afghanistan.
“We cannot remain indifferent to the issue [water dams], which is apparently damaging our environment,” Rouhani noted. “Construction of several dams in Afghanistan, such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan, Salma, and others in the north and south of Afghanistan, affect our Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces.”
Noorullah Shayan contributed reporting from Farah, Afghanistan while Shahpur Sabir contributed reporting from Herat, Afghanistan.
First published on RFE/RL's Gandahara website