Thinking Aloud: Iran and the Taliban?

June 12, 2015 by Darius 

Strange times make for strange bedfellows.  According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, part of the Taliban’s ongoing resurgence in Afghanistan is made possible by a new set of benefactors:  Iran.

Iran is reportedly stepping up support to the Taliban in response to two overlapping fears.  The first fear is nothing new: US military presence in Afghanistan.  The second fear is the growing potential and power of ISIS in Afghanistan.  Iran and the Taliban are not, and never will be, friends.  Iran actually helped invading US forces against the Taliban back in 2001.  However, stranger alliances of convenience have been made.

It is also worthwhile to point out that the sources for this story are US and Afghan.  Both have interests in promoting the idea of Iranian aid to the Taliban: for the Afghans, it establishes the narrative of a strong foreign backer to the Taliban that must be countered by additional aid to the Afghan government.  The US is always looking to portray Iran as dangerous and powerful throughout the region, sometimes in exaggeration of evidence (see: the Houthis in Yemen).

Beyond the immediate issue of Iranian support for the Taliban, though, is another issue: Iranian overextension.  Iran’s involvement in Syria and Lebanon to prop up its allies there is well documented.  Iran is also heavily invested in supporting the Iraqi government and the Shia militias fighting ISIS there.  Yet, until a nuclear deal is signed, the Iranian economy is still straight-jacketed by sanctions.  Its foreign adventures are undoubtedly already putting a dent in the country’s budget, which makes it difficult to see Iran providing the Taliban with much more than the bare amount necessary to counter ISIS, annoy the US, and curry goodwill with some of the Taliban leadership.

Iran’s involvement with the Taliban is almost certainly a dalliance of convenience, not the beginning of a love affair, let alone a marriage.


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