Iran: All Options Open in Afghanistan

“There will be no peace in Afghanistan without Iran.” This was a remark a top Iranian diplomat made last week in an expansive interview with the country’s media. Rasool Mousavi, a long-time member of the Iranian diplomatic corps and a former ambassador to Tajikistan and Afghanistan was unusually frank.


Iran’s policies toward its eastern neighbor are mostly dominated by the military and security services in Tehran. Afghanistan has always been primarily viewed as a security challenge. And this basic Iranian approach does not seem to have changed based on the message from Mousavi.


Mousavi made the prediction that the United States has no real long-term plans for Afghanistan and that its investment in that country are coming to an end. Once the US departs, Mousavi predicted the Afghans are to be confronted with severe challenges. That is why, he said, Iran needs to remain intimately involved in Afghan affairs. Another Afghan civil war will hugely impact Iran, he said.


In the case of Iran, he maintained that Tehran’s policy is to enhance its influence in Afghanistan “in order to preserve security for Iran.” In such pursuit, Iran will evidently work with any Afghan faction, including its former nemesis, the Taliban. He said Iran is “facing a different Taliban today than was the case during the period of Mullah Omar.” "Taliban is not uniform," and that Iran has to find leverage was Mousavi's simple message. 


In fact, he painted the Taliban as a useful counter to the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. “The Taliban believes Afghanistan is for the Afghans and is against foreign military presence.” From Tehran’s perspective, the Afghan Taliban can be mobilized against the Pakistani Taliban, which in Mousavi’s view is the same as the Islamic State found in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.


“No one can expect Iran to sit still in the face of the emergence of Daesh [Islamic State].” Above all, he lambasted the idea that Iran’s newfound ties with what he calls “neo-Taliban” is disturbing. “If the Afghan government pursues peace with the Taliban and the Chinse, the Pakistani and the Americans are all involved, then why not Iran?”


In a undiplomatic reference, Mousavi was dismissive of the Afghan political elite. “No one among the Afghans [politicians] operates transparently. Iran and other states face uncertainty in Afghanistan and the immaturity of some of the country’s elite makes everything worse.” In other words, it appears that this seasoned Iranian diplomat believes that Iran has to keep its options open, including negotiations and even compromises with the Taliban. It is a blunt message that will surely be noted in Kabul.