Reacting to today’s deadly bombing in Kabul, Iranian leaders and media outlets blamed U.S. policies and military presence in Afghanistan for growing extremism and instability in the war-ravaged country. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the Kabul attack shows “Takfiri terrorism recognizes no boundaries” and called on regional countries to act in unison to fight terrorism instead of seeking help from outsiders – an apparent reference to the United States, which has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan training and assisting the country’s security forces. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said the U.S. military’s heavy-handed actions – such as the use of the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan last month – fueled terrorism and extremism in the region. In an interview with Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), Ghassemi rejected rumors that Iranian embassy was the main target of the Kabul bombing. He added that all Iranian diplomats and personnel at the embassy were safe and only the embassy building had sustained some damage.
Some Iranian media outlets reported today that the Islamic Republic’s embassy in Kabul might have been the main target of the truck bombing that killed more than 100 people in the Afghan capital earlier. Fars News Agency wrote a lengthy piece on the Kabul attack, entitled: “The Behind-the-Scenes of Today’s Terrorist Action in Kabul; Was Iran’s Embassy the Target of the Attack?” The article blamed the United States for the rise of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. “Today’s terrorist action in Kabul is a result of a lack of decisive approach to terrorism and the continuation of support by America and some regional countries for extremist groups,” it added.
Comment: There is no evidence that the Iranian embassy in Kabul was the main target of today’s attack. The deadly bombing occurred in Kabul’s highly-guarded diplomatic enclave and damaged several buildings in the area, including the embassies of Germany, Turkey, Japan, Pakistan and Iran.
There are also conflicting reports about which terrorist group was responsible for the carnage. The Afghan Taliban denied involvement, but the terrorist group rarely takes credit for attacks that result in the killing of large numbers of civilians. According to the Afghan intelligence agency, the Haqqani branch of the Taliban planned and executed the bombing.
But even if the attackers deliberately wanted to inflict damage to the Iranian diplomatic mission in Kabul, Tehran is unlikely to stop supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Almost two decades ago, Taliban militants killed nine Iranian diplomats and massacred Afghan Shiites in northern Afghanistan. While the incident prompted the Iranian government to threaten war against the Taliban and increase support for anti-Taliban resistance forces, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) began to cultivate ties with and to provide support to the Taliban after the 2001 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. This is because Tehran sees the presence of the U.S. military along its eastern border a bigger national security threat than the Taliban.
While most Taliban leaders sought refuge in Pakistan in late 2001 and early 2002, Iran also provided sanctuary to many leaders of the group; and in the years ahead, the Islamic Republic – albeit to a much lesser extent compared with Pakistan – helped the Taliban regroup and mount a fully-fledged insurgency against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan. Both Tehran and the Taliban denied cooperation during the first decade after the US intervention, but the unholy alliance is no longer a secret and the two sides now unapologetically admit and publicize it.
Last December, for example, Iran’s ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Reza Behrami, sent shockwaves across Afghanistan by announcing that his government maintained contacts with the Taliban for “control and intelligence” purposes. Tehran “formalized” its partnership with the Taliban in early 2014, when it opened an office for the terrorist group in Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan-e Razavi Province near Afghanistan’s Herat Province.
Nor are the Taliban reticent about their relations with Shiite Iran anymore; on the contrary, the terrorist group boasts that its ties with Iran, Russia and China signify its “legitimacy and recognition” by regional and world powers. Last October, a Taliban official told Pakistan’s Express Tribune that Maulvi Nek Muhammad, a veteran Taliban leader, was now the group’s special envoy to Iran. Last year, a Taliban delegation, led by the group’s military commission chief Ibrahim Sadr, also visited Tehran to “seek military aid.” When the U.S. drone killed Taliban commander Mullah Mansour, he was returning to Pakistan from a trip to Iran.
Recently, Afghan officials say the Iranian government has deepened its ties with the Taliban leadership and increasingly funds, shelters and arms terrorists fighting in Afghanistan, particularly in the three western provinces bordering Iran. They allege that the I.R.G.C. and its secretive Quds Force operatives recruit militants from across Afghanistan and run terrorist training camps for them inside the Iranian territory – further fueling the insurgency and complicating stabilization efforts in the war-ravaged country.