On a call with Hossein Amirabdollahian, the newly appointed Iranian Foreign Minister on Sunday September 5th, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) asked Iran for humanitarian aid for his war-torn country. As Abdullah led the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban from 2020 to 2021, his request could not have been made without their approval.
The Islamic Republic has had a sordid affair with the Taliban, at times mortal enemies and more recently comrades in arms in Tehran’s long struggle to push U.S. forces out of its neighbourhood. But the re-emergence of Sunni/Salafi Taliban also brings security concerns for the Shia clerics ruling Tehran.
The Taliban have had close ties with Baluch Salafist rebels that operate across the Iran’s 959 kilometres of porous border with Pakistan. And already, the swift takeover of the country by the Taliban is emboldening extremists in the region. On the same day that Abdullah Abdullah was calling the Iranian Foreign Minister, a suicide attack in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan left at least 4 dead and 20 injured. Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for the attack which targeted the paramilitary Frontier Corps.
A day earlier (Saturday September 4th), General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had warned of “likely” civil war breaking out in Afghanistan, and the potential return of more hardcore terrorist groups to the country.
Iran has experienced its own share of armed Jihadi insurgency in its restive Baluchistan province. Sistan and Baluchestan is the poorest of Iran’s 31 provinces, with a Human Development Index (HDI) score of 0.688. The province’s nearly 2 million ethic Baluch population are predominantly Sunni Muslims. The Iranian government views Salafism as a threat and does not allow Salafis to build mosques in Tehran or other large cities due to the fear that these mosques could be infiltrated by extremists. Despite that, so far as U.S. military presence in the region is concerned, Ali Khamenei has long advocated verse 29 of the 48th chapter (surah Al Fath) of the Quran which reads; “(۴۸:۲۹) Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers, merciful among themselves” which basically translates to “Unite with your fellow Muslims against the infidel.”
However, adopting this strategy could prove catastrophic for Iran’s national security. Less than three weeks earlier and shortly after the fall of Kabul, Maulana Abdul Hamid, the most influential spiritual Sunni leader in Iran publicly congratulated the Taliban for their victory in Afghanistan. With the dire economic conditions in the country, extreme poverty in Baluchistan, and a general sense of discrimination felt by Iran’s Sunni minority, the repercussions of the new reality in Afghanistan may soon dawn on the so-called Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.