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The Iranian Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan

The Iranian Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan

The Iranian Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan

ABSTRACT

This research paper highlights the challenges and opportunitiesfor the Iranian Post-Revolutionary Foreign Policy (1979 onwards) directed towards Afghanistan in the light of various reasons and causes, including the historical background of Iranian foreign policy towards Afghanistan from 1979 till 1992, the details of the challenges and opportunities Iran encountered from 1992 till 2013, along with their potential implications and outcomes; cross-border trafficking, insecurities, conflicts and disagreements, and how they assisted in reshaping of contemporary foreign policy of Iran. The section contemporary foreign policy of Iran towards Afghanistan will cover the major challenges and opportunities; immigration of Afghan refugees, water crisis, drug trafficking and presence of the US in the region, and their influence on both state’s policies and strategies

The main objective behind carrying out this research is to study, understand, analyze and highlight the foreign policy objectives of Iran towards Afghanistan and development of an understanding pertaining to how the policies originated and evolved after Iranian Revolution of 1979 as well as analyzing the direction of their journey, ultimately influencing Iran and Afghanistan. In the end of this research paper, conclusion for better understanding is given. Research question is answered concisely in the best possible ways to help analyze the problem deeply and efficiently. This paper will also help the reader to deeply analyze the scenarios and then offers critical thinking about their aspects and outcomes. Authentic sources are used for research.

Keywords:

The Challenges and Opportunities, Iranian Foreign Policy, Contemporary Foreign Policy of Iran towards Afghanistan, Immigration of Afghan Refugees, Water Crisis, Drug Trafficking and Presence of the US in Middle East.

Research Methodology:

This research used the literature review method by analyzing, comparing and contrasting arguments using related sources. Quantitative method of research is used while conducting this research. Secondary sources are used such as the books, journal articles, research reports, the internet and the informative media. Some assistance from tertiary sources like documentaries and opinions, is taken while carrying out the research.

Limits of the Research:

This research is concerned with the post-revolutionary foreign policy of Iran towards Afghanistan. It’s not necessarily confined to a specific time frame; but mainly during and after 1979. However, it is confined to Iran and Afghanistan in the geopolitical and geostrategic sense.

INTRODUCTION

Islamic Republic of Iran is a Middle Eastern State sharing 921 km long border with Afghanistan in East (which is a landlocked state), has Caspian Sea in the North and Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in the South. Afghanistan is located at a geographically important position as it’s a gateway towards Central Asia and South Asia linking with Middle East and Europe. Iran is about 2.5 times greater in size than Afghanistan. Both states have political, cultural and ethnic diversities. Though both are Muslim majority states; Iran is Shiite majority whereas Afghanistan inhabits Sunni Muslims. Iran’s political system includes theocracy having policies based on the Islam, political freedom and presidential democracy. Being a hybrid regime, the theocratic political system has the representative participation which changes according to social and political dynamics with the passage of time.

However, the major shift in Iran’s political system and foreign policy occurred during Iranian revolution in 1979. Before this revolution, Iran was constitutional monarchy merged with parliamentary system. Afghanistan is a presidential democratic state. There is discord among government of the state as the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan took place due to fall of Kabul to Taliban on August 15, 2021. Now, they are controlling the whole state. Diplomatic and strategic relations between both states were friendly from independence of Afghanistan in 1919 till 1979. But, both states visualized escalated constraints between them in the post-revolutionary era. The socio-economic order along with political order was also changed. Iran has visualized escalated constraints in social, economic and political prospects along with its foreign policy in the post-revolutionary era.

Research Question:

What were the challenges and opportunities for Iranian foreign policy towards Afghanistan in post-revolutionary period?

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Much analysis is done by eminent political scientists and researchers on Iran’s foreign policy. But the case study here is the Iranian foreign policy directed towards Afghanistan in post–revolutionary period. In post–revolutionary era, Khomeini’s ideology was prioritized along with Islamic solidarity and regional changes in foreign policy towards Afghanistan for almost 10 years.  In 2006, Vali R. Nasr in his book “The Shia Revival” advocated that,

“Khomeini used the emotional power of Shia lore and imagery not only to help him seize control of Iran but to lay claim to Shiism’s very soul”.[1]


[1] Vali R. Nasr, “The Shia Revival”, 2006, pp. 106.

He also said that “Khomeini made Islamic fundamentalism a political force that would change Muslim politics from Morocco to Malaysia”. Khomeini mixed ideology with the theology of the revolution to consolidate his power. After revolution, the major principle of Iranian foreign policy was export of revolution.

Figure 1: Map showing Iran-Afghanistan border.

During the same year (1979), Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Budgetary constraints curbed the formulation of a comprehensive strategy towards Afghanistan.[1] Iran has opened its doors to more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees since 1979, and employment to more than 1.5 million undocumented migrant workers whose remittances have supported communities across Afghanistan.[2] During Hashemi Rafsanjani’s Presidency, economy grew for first 3 years (1989-


[1] Rashid, A., Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (IB Tauris: London, 2000), p. 199.

[2] Koepke, B., ‘The situation of Afghans in the Islamic Republic of Iran nine years after the overthrow of the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan’, editions J. Calabrese and J.-L. Marret, Transatlantic Cooperation on Protracted Displacement: Urgent Need and Unique Opportunity (Middle East Institute Press: Washington, DC, 2012), pp. 57–69; and American Institute of Afghanistan Studies and the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, ‘Afghanistan’s other neighbors: Iran, Central Asia, and China’, Report of Conference in Istanbul, 24–26 July 2008, p. 6. 

1992) but afterwards, economic downfall occurred due to mismanagement of currency and decline in oil prices. Despite the development in different social, political, economic and cultural sectors; the economic sector remained in bad terms. Also, Iran faced refugee issue at that time. In 1991-1992, refugee crisis reached at peak, more than 3 million Afghan refugees reached Iran.[1]


[1] Koepke, B., ‘The situation of Afghans in the Islamic Republic of Iran nine years after the overthrow of the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan’, editions J. Calabrese and J.-L. Marret, Transatlantic Cooperation on Protracted Displacement: Urgent Need and Unique Opportunity (Middle East Institute Press: Washington, DC, 2012), pp. 57–69.

Figure 2: Map showing ethnic division in Afghanistan.

Iran also supported Shi’ite communities residing in Afghanistan. During early 1980s, in central highlands that embraced Khomeinist Islamism, only Shi’ite groups there received financial and logistical support. This resulted into clash within Shi’ite sections in Afghanistan.[1] During President Rafsanjani’s regime, Iran adopted more cohesive policy supporting the establishment of a multiethnic government in Afghanistan, including representatives of both Shi’ite and Sunni sects. In 1988-89, after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the communist regime of Afghans imploded.[2]Foreign policy of Iran towards Afghanistan was influenced for most of the time by “Sanctions imposed on Iran due to Hostage Crisis and the Nuclear Program, and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan”.


[1] Ibrahimi, N., The Failure of a Clerical Proto-State: Hazarajat, 1979–1984, Crisis States Research Centre (CSRC) Working Paper no. 6 (CSRC: London, June 2006), p. 4.

[2] Olesen, A., Islam and Politics in Afghanistan (Curzon Press: London, 1995), p. 291.

THE CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES FROM 1992 TILL 2013

Burhanuddin Rabbaniremained the President of Afghanistan from 1992 to 2001. During his regime, civil war started from 1992 till 1996 which was backed by Iran mainly and resulted into emergence of Taliban taking control in 1996.[1] Iran engaged militarily and politically with Shi’ite Islamist groups and anti-Taliban United Front; Northern Alliance. Taliban’s expansion with anti-Shia agenda resulted into Iran’s more convergence towards Afghanistan, backing anti-Taliban resistance groups and its standing for peace through political dialogue.[2]


[1] Maley, W., The Afghanistan Wars, 2nd edition (Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2009), p. 203–204.

[2] Ahady, A.U.H., ‘Saudi Arabia, Iran and the conflict in Afghanistan’, p. 126.

Figure 3: Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani (1992-2001)

Iran had anti-US policy and wanted an Islamist-ruled regime in Afghanistan. Eventually, Hekmatyar (a critique of US) of Hezb-e-Islami was seemed to Iran its ally. Iran co-operated with Wahdat and wanted it to approach Hezb-e-Islami. In 1995, Jamiat attacked sectors of Wahdat in Kabul. Wahdat went to Taliban for assistance. Despite this, a leader of Wahdat’s splinter group; Muhammad Akbari (a Shia Qizilbash Commander, converged apparently with Wahdat forces of Mazari), attacked Taliban. They interpreted it as a betrayal by Wahdat and killed Mazari in the same month. This ended dialogue between both the states. Consequently, Iran supported all anti-Taliban groups. Here, emerged the challenge of “threat to national security of Iran” by Taliban. This proved true when on August 8, 1998, Taliban killed a journalist and eight diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif at Iranian consulate. For vengeance, Iran was confused how to retaliate, whether with

[1] Maley, W., The Afghanistan Wars, 2nd edition (Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2009), p. 203–204.

[1] Ahady, A.U.H., ‘Saudi Arabia, Iran and the conflict in Afghanistan’, p. 126.

military intervention or not. Some senior officials feared the threat to Iranian national interest by the military intervention, ultimately by radical Sunni Islamists aligned with Taliban.

Iranian President Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005) adopted moderate approach. In October 1998, he located 200,000 soldiers in Eastern border of Iran for showing the force.[1]On the other hand, in Kandahar, Taliban kidnapped several Iranians. This offered Iranian officials an opportunity for directly engaging at the diplomatic level with senior Taliban.[2]During December 1997, in Esfahan, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited resistance envoys of Afghanistan at a conference.[3] Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi emphasized that Afghanistan should be prioritized in political arena. In Tehran, Iranian President Khatami focused on negotiations and peace in Afghanistan during the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit.[4] During July 1999, the Tashkent Declaration banned military aid and arm supplies to Afghanistan but anti-Taliban opposition was supplied arms by Iran; meanwhile also urging diplomatic solution to the crisis.


[1] Rashid, A., “Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia” (IB Tauris: London, 2000), p. 197.

[2] “Iran in direct contact with Taliban over kidnapped diplomats”, Agence France-Presse, 23 Aug. 1998; Rashid, A., Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (IB Tauris: London, 2000), pg. 75.

[3] “Afghanistan’s peace conference in Esfahan”, Seraj, vol. 4, no. 14–31 (1376 [1–3 Dec. 1997]), pp. 133–50 (in Farsi).

[4] Kamalian, H. (ed.), Documents of the Eighth Islamic Summit (Session of Dignity, Dialogue Participation), 9–11 December 1997 (Office of the Chairman of the Eighth Islamic Summit: Tehran, 2000).

Figure 4: Iranian President Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005)

Foreign Policy of Iran became more pragmatic towards Afghanistan (it intensified political solution to the conflict), by late 1990s. During the US invasion of Iraq, Iran declared neutrality, but US officials believed that it is attempting to usurp Iraq as the region’s dominating force. Sanctions on Iran escalated during Administrations of US President George H.W. Bush and Bill

[1] Rashid, A., “Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia” (IB Tauris: London, 2000), p. 197.

[1] “Iran in direct contact with Taliban over kidnapped diplomats”, Agence France-Presse, 23 Aug. 1998; Rashid, A., Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (IB Tauris: London, 2000), pg. 75.

[1] “Afghanistan’s peace conference in Esfahan”, Seraj, vol. 4, no. 14–31 (1376 [1–3 Dec. 1997]), pp. 133–50 (in Farsi).

[1] Kamalian, H. (ed.), Documents of the Eighth Islamic Summit (Session of Dignity, Dialogue Participation), 9–11 December 1997 (Office of the Chairman of the Eighth Islamic Summit: Tehran, 2000).

Clinton. In 1992, the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act was passed by Congress, restricting materials that could be used to develop sophisticated weapons. In 1995, Us escalated restrictions by enforcing an oil and trade embargo. Sanctions were implemented upon Non-American corporations investing more than $20 million per year in Iran’s oil and gas sectors under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. The trade between Iran and Afghanistan got much affected.

From 1999 till 2001, Iran urged Afghanistan for reaching a political settlement during “Iran’s Cyprus Process”.[1] In March 2000 and onwards, US seemed unable to defeat Taliban and signaled for cooperation on Afghanistan with Iran. Iran progressively engaged in Geneva Initiative in response.[2] This showed Iran’s support for Afghanistan’s state building. In 2001, Iran cooperated with US and other international entities for development and peace building in Afghanistan. Initially in Kabul, additional foreign soldiers were deployed by UNSC’s approval: for assurance of security for reconstruction in post–civil war era.[3]


[1] Katzman K., Afghanistan: Current Issues and US Policy, Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress RL30588 (US Congress, CRS: Washington, DC, Dec 3, 2002), p. 8; and Samad, O., ‘Second Afghan peace movement calls for “coordinated Efforts”, Azadi Afghan Radio in Afghanistan News Center, Dec 2, 1999.

[2] Parker, J. W., Persian Dreams: Moscow and Tehran since the fall of the Shah (Potomac Books: Dulles, VA, 2008), p. 181.

[3] UN Security Council Resolution 1386, Dec 20, 2001.

The CIA categorized Iran as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism for decades, and it has used the War on Terror as a wonderful chance to weaken neighboring states and for growing its own influence to become a vital regional and global actor. Despite these accusations, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (in 2001), Iran secretly assisted US in conflict directed against Taliban. Contrarily, the US President George W. Bush called Iran “Axis of Evil” along with North Korea and Iraq, in his State of the Union speech in 2002. He emphasized that,

“Iran relentlessly pursues (weapons of mass destruction) and exports terror while an unelected minority suppress the Iranian people’s aspirations for freedom”.

Consequently, the government of Iran got enraged and suspended secret meetings with US diplomats which aimed at apprehending Al-Qaeda operatives and defeating the Taliban. The dialogue between Iran and US were lessened and foreign policy directed towards Afghanistan became more embedded in Iran-US scenario and was dominated by hardline conservatives and clerics. Iran got golden opportunity of becoming an ambitious player in Middle East as well as in Central Asian region after withdrawal of Taliban in November 2001.The economic and political reconstruction in Afghanistan was assisted by Iranian resources. Even though Afghan President Hamid Karzai shifted his cabinet many times, influential persons having ties with government of Iran remained at senior positions.

Iran adopted constructive engagement towards Afghanistan due to escalating insurgency by Pashtuns, potential connections among Sunni insurgent groups of Afghanistan and Iranian terrorist groups; Sunni Baloch ethno-nationalist Jundullah. Iran also adopted strategy of “support for reconstruction; economic and political”. This was evident from Bonn Conference of December 2001, where Iranian officials in favor of policy of US, convinced Sunni-Tajik dominated United Front for acceptance of government with variations under Hamid Karzai. Eventually, Iran

[1] Katzman K., Afghanistan: Current Issues and US Policy, Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress RL30588 (US Congress, CRS: Washington, DC, Dec 3, 2002), p. 8; and Samad, O., ‘Second Afghan peace movement calls for “coordinated Efforts”, Azadi Afghan Radio in Afghanistan News Center, Dec 2, 1999.

[1] Parker, J. W., Persian Dreams: Moscow and Tehran since the fall of the Shah (Potomac Books: Dulles, VA, 2008), p. 181. [1] UN Security Council Resolution 1386, Dec 20, 2001.

remained victorious. The US representative “James Dobbins” emphasized that without Iranian assistance, formation of Karzai government was impossible.[1]


[1] Dobbins, J., ‘Negotiating with Iran’, Iran: Reality, Options and Consequences, Part 2, Negotiating with the Iranians: Missed Opportunities and Paths Forward, Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, US House of Representatives, Nov 7, 2007 (US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC, 2009); p. 12.

The elections of 2005 were won by hardliner conservative Ahmadinejad and removed officials who supported engagement with the US. Eventually, Iranian Foreign Policy shifted towards emphasis on interpreting the international community’s engagement and for development of its strategy towards US. During 2004-05 presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, Taliban re-emerged as a resilient insurgent group. Until March 2009, dialogue and reconciliation between Iran and Afghanistan became impossible. Iran realized through rising insurgency that domestic security of Iran and peace in Afghanistan could only be safeguarded if power is shared through political means rather than military ones in all Afghan groups involved in the conflict.

Figure 5: Iranian Hardliner Conservative President Ahmadinejad (2005 – 2013).

Iran urged for ‘look East’ policy along with isolationism (due to sanctions imposed by West) during President Ahmadinejad’s regime. Strong ties with China were also established during this tenure. Iran adopted policy for backing Karzai Administration, expanding bilateral relations and respect for the State’s sovereignty since 2002. Iran has also emphasized on NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan since 2007 and pressurized Afghanistan to solve its problems without external influence since 2009.

[1] Dobbins, J., ‘Negotiating with Iran’, Iran: Reality, Options and Consequences, Part 2, Negotiating with the Iranians: Missed Opportunities and Paths Forward, Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, US House of Representatives, Nov 7, 2007 (US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC, 2009); p. 12.

Iran also worked on its Nuclear Program side by side for which it faced many sanctions; which ultimately resulted into stagnation of Iranian Foreign Policy. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emphasized that it is for civilian energy production, State’s own security and industrial development purposes. Defensive realism states that “the nation-states try to avoid power gaps with other states however, it is unnecessary that they will maximize their power for their own sake”.  This justifies the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

Figure 6: Map showing the nuclear facilities and sites in Iran.

The time period 2002-07 was considered “golden era” by some Iranian officials due to huge financial support towards Afghanistan. Contrarily, during 2007-13, aid from Iran was comparatively lower, mainly focused existing products’ finalization. This showed political context’s influence along with escalated critical foreign efforts of Iranian Government in Afghanistan as relations between Iran and US got frustrated and further sanctions on Iran due to its nuclear program. Due to these challenges, Iran adopted various strategies like; it adopted pragmatic approach for consolidation of strategic influence and escalating its trade with Afghanistan and formation of buffer zone for safeguard of security in future. It supported “Istanbul Process” in 2011, for escalation of political dialogue and cooperation among the Asian states present at Asia’s heart; and UN conferences on Afghanistan.

Diverse trade agreements were signed between Iran and Afghanistan which escalated economic exchange and trade. Trade exports of Iran escalated from $150 million (in 2002) to $2 billion (at the end of 2012) to Afghanistan.[1] From mid-2007, Iran pressurized Afghanistan to cope all insecurity matters and International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) withdrawal and suggested that US could use its new bases for launching military strikes at Iran.[2]


 

[2] Borger, J., ‘Iran offers to help US rebuild Afghanistan’, The Guardian, Mar 31, 2009; Khazaee, M., Permanent Representative of Iran, ‘On the situation in Afghanistan’, Statement before the UN Security Council, Oct 15, 2007; and Khazaee, M., Permanent Representative of Iran, ‘On the situation in Afghanistan’, Statement before the UN Security Council, July 9, 2008.

During March 2011, Iran declared shift in its foreign policy by emphasizing that it supports the High Peace Council (HPC) and its dialogue with Taliban. Iran also offered for hosting meeting of mediation in Tehran between Afghan groups. In September 2011, Iran entered in peace talks like; in Tehran, it invited the HPC leadership and two members of Quetta Shura (the Taliban’s leadership council) in Islamic Awakening Conference. In June 2013, Taliban declared the travelling of their two delegations to Tehran from their office in Doha, for negotiations with Iranian officials.[1]


[1] Khabare, T. ‘Taliban officials visit Iran’, Tolo news, June 3, 2013; and Khan, T., ‘Neighborhood watch: Taliban defy Afghan govt, successfully conclude Iran visit’, Express Tribune (Karachi), June 7, 2013.

From 1997 to mid-2013, Iran’s key policy was to become a regional player. Iran perceived its engagement in Afghanistan as “opportunity towards increasing its regional role geared to promote national interests”.[1]The Iran’s new policy on reconciliation appeared when provision of Iranian weapons to Afghan insurgents was reported by ISAF.


[1] Barzegar, K., ‘Role at odds: the roots of increased Iran–U.S. tension in the post-9/11 Middle East’, Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, vol. 1, no. 3 (2010), pp. 97.

When Rouhani was elected as President of Iran in 2013, he emphasized on policies of economic development and moderation. On his first day in office, strategic cooperation agreement on intelligence, economic and security projects was signed by him with Afghanistan. This indicated Iran’s initiative for improvement of ties with East and to strengthen the security measures for balancing the US influence in Afghanistan in post-2014 period.[1]


[1] ‘The strategic agreement between Afghanistan and Iran, and its details’ (in Dari), Ufuq Magazine, Aug 6, 2013; and Ruttig, T. ‘Can Kabul carry two melons in one hand? Afghanistan and Iran sign strategic cooperation document’, Afghanistan Analysts Network, Aug 6, 2013.

THE CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE

CONTEMPORARY IRANIAN FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS AFGHANISTAN

[1] Borger, J., ‘Iran offers to help US rebuild Afghanistan’, The Guardian, Mar 31, 2009; Khazaee, M., Permanent Representative of Iran, ‘On the situation in Afghanistan’, Statement before the UN Security Council, Oct 15, 2007; and Khazaee, M., Permanent Representative of Iran, ‘On the situation in Afghanistan’, Statement before the UN Security Council, July 9, 2008.

[1] Khabare, T. ‘Taliban officials visit Iran’, Tolo news, June 3, 2013; and Khan, T., ‘Neighborhood watch: Taliban defy Afghan govt, successfully conclude Iran visit’, Express Tribune (Karachi), June 7, 2013.

[1] Barzegar, K., ‘Role at odds: the roots of increased Iran–U.S. tension in the post-9/11 Middle East’, Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, vol. 1, no. 3 (2010), pp. 97. [1] ‘The strategic agreement between Afghanistan and Iran, and its details’ (in Dari), Ufuq Magazine, Aug 6, 2013; and Ruttig, T. ‘Can Kabul carry two melons in one hand? Afghanistan and Iran sign strategic cooperation document’, Afghanistan Analysts Network, Aug 6, 2013.

Iranian Foreign Policy has and still may face diverse challenges and got opportunities for its advancement of interests and benefits in various prospects. It is hypothesized that the major challenge for Iranian Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan that will prove as an obstacle in diplomatic relations between both states is “Security Issues” (in this era when Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan). Secondly, this will also be proved as blessing in disguise for Iran. Several factors influence the prospects of security for Iran. Some are discussed below:

Immigration of Afghan refugees: This influences the Iranian security to a greater extent. Since 2001, US invasion of Afghanistan, this issue resulted into obstruction of relations between both states. After return of Taliban in power in August 2021, Afghan refugees doubled according to foreign ministry of Iran, reached near 5 million. As it has experienced economic deterioration due to sanctions, the immigration further placed huge burden on Iran’s economy. In October 2021, in Mashhad, an Afghan refugee was accused of killing two Iranian clerics. This incident along with a video showing humiliation of Afghan refugees such as they were insulted, beaten, falsely accused and asserted and being pressurized to live in the squalid camps; where they were maltreated, further intensified the scenario. Iran insisted that all these wants to destroy the diplomatic relations between both states. Despite this, Afghanistan emphasized Iran on assurance of security services and protection to refugees. In vengeance, protestors throw stones at Iranian consulate, devastated surveillance cameras and set main gate to fire; in Herat.

Water crisis between Iran and Afghanistan: This crisis also influences security ties between both states, ultimately affecting Iranian Policy. Since early 1960s, water right’s crisis also exists between Iran and Afghanistan.[1]Regional security and political implications also existed due to problem of equitable distribution and rights of water along the Harirud River (in Khorasan) and Helmand River (in Sistan Baluchistan). The non-binding agreement of 1973 only applies to Harirud River and emphasizes that Iran will be provided with significant water discharge by Afghanistan.


[1] Haji-Yousefi, A. M., ‘Iran’s foreign policy in Afghanistan: the current situation and future prospects’, Paper presented at the Canadian Political Science Association Annual Conference, Waterloo, Ontario, 16–18 May 2011, p. 3.

Figure 7: Map showing Helmand River Basin.

For its effectiveness, both states entered into an agreement for establishment of measurement devices on river. The head of the Helmand Water Commissary advocated that effective river water management and raised knowledge for effective distribution of water in both states was the goal of the agreement.

According to Vatan-e Emrooz, “About 90% of the country’s wetlands are drying up and the collapse of these wetlands will surely lead to climate change, economic insecurity and food insecurity”. Rainfall in Iran’s southern Sistan and Baluchistan was 82 % (lower than the average long-term rainfall), according to the Iranian Meteorological Organization. Meanwhile, Hormozgan province, which borders the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, has received 86% less rainfall than region’s normal pattern of rainfall.[1] Water shortages have resulted in conflicts between the natives and security authorities in various sections of the State. The ability of Iran to deal with the water crisis is inextricably connected to challenges of its foreign policy.


[1] Galestan, M. “The Cause of Iran’s Worsening Water Crisis”, June 3, 2021.

Drug trafficking: This evil across the border between both states is another major challenge to Iran’s security ties with Afghanistan. Iran spends millions of dollars on safeguarding its border against this evil annually. In post-revolutionary period, consumption of opiates by Iranians escalated despite of penalties and punishments by governments. During the same period, Afghanistan became one of the world’s largest opium producer in the region. Throughout 1990s, Afghan output of poppy escalated, also utilization of heroin in Iran also boosted. In 2000, the ban of poppy’s cultivation by Taliban resulted into the shortages of opium, which driven the drug

[1] Galestan, M. “The Cause of Iran’s Worsening Water Crisis”, June 3, 2021.

consumption pattern in Iran even faster towards heroin addiction. According to the Survey of Afghan Annual Opium Poppy in 2016, the harvest was the highest of all the times, with total cultivation up to 59% and production up to 49% over the previous year. According to Afghan Survey of 2007, the output increased by 34% since 2006.[1] The graph given below shows the increase in Afghanistan’s share of the opium poppy farming.


[1] UNODC, 2007 Afghanistan Annual Opium Poppy Survey, pg. 4.

Figure 8: UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Drug Report 2007, figure 15. pp. 41.

The drug crisis in Iran has also contributed to an increase in severe crimes and corruption. Kidnapping and murder have grown in the province of Khorasan. Approximately 3,500 law enforcements and security personnel of Iran have killed heavily armed drug traffickers in fights along the Eastern border of Iran over past the last two decades. In 2005, the International Narcotics   Control Board credited Iran with significant escalation in opiates seizures, with a total of 350 tones. Iran has serious concerns regarding this issue and wants Taliban to take serious measures and enforce certain rules and laws in order to cope with this evil.

The militia leaders supported by Iran visualize the victory of Taliban as a model and an opportunity for their own interests. The formal recognition of government of Taliban by Iranian government connected to its implementation of an inclusive government. Also, another major challenge is Haqqani Network’s hardline approach. It is a branch of Taliban having relations to many Sunni-

[1] UNODC, 2007 Afghanistan Annual Opium Poppy Survey, pg. 4.

extremist groups like Al-Qaeda. Its leader is Interior Minister in government of Afghanistan. And if he remained persistent to achieve higher level in government, relations between Iran and Afghanistan will be titled by him. If relations between both states will be deteriorated, then the Jihadist groups would join Taliban against Iran.[1] Iran is cautious about not to replicate the incident of Mazar-i-Sharif that took place in 1998. Iran is actually working on three main policies; support for Taliban Regime, waging proxy wars (to prevent the full control of Taliban over Afghanistan), and direct intervention (in order to establish its influence by preventing the victory of Taliban).


[1] Elias, F. “The Rise of the Taliban and Iran’s Critical Problem in Afghanistan”, Oct 28, 2022. 

According to the Realism Theory, there is anarchy in international system, where powers feel threatened by each other’s increasing influence and want to be the dominant player, which makes them feel secure in that way. This scenario ultimately leads to war and conflicts. From this perspective, Iran feels threatened by any state that is developing and going against its interests. The existence of multiple powers means that they will try to compete and eliminate one another. Iran don’t want to lose regional supremacy against its rivals Saudi Arabia in the region so US always marks its presence in the Middle East.

Mearsheimer suggests in the offensive realism that “states seek to survive under anarchy by maximizing their power”, which results in the institutions being unable to influence this kind of behavior. Contrarily, the institutionalists argue that institutions are capable of bringing peace, although it will weaken their power. If the prime objective of foreign policy of Iran is to strengthen its position as a single regional dominant player and power.[1] If the prime objective of foreign policy of Iran is to strengthen its position as a single regional dominant player and power and does not choose to respect the freedom and interests of other states, then it will be perceived as a threat for states that don’t fulfil its interests. But Iran should have to look its internal problems rather than threatening and interfering in the other states.


[1] Mearsheimer, John J. 1995. A Realist Reply. International Security, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 82-93.

The presence of Iran’s persistent enemy; US in the region: It is one of the major security threats and challenges posed to Iranian Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan. Iran perceives the return of Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021, as the major failure of US in the region. The presence of the US in the region, according to President Ebrahim Raisi, promotes insecurity and Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan would provide an opportunity for “peace and security”.

“The nature of our connections with governments relies on the nature of their relations with US”,

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remarked in his speech. He also took advantage of the chance to criticize the US for acting very brazenly in Afghanistan. According to Tehran’s narrative, the US would suffer future failures in the Middle Eastern region as a result of its defeat in Afghanistan. Due to zero-sum logic of Taliban, Iran’s offensive realist regional strategy would be encouraged, which would further aggravate troubles.

Iran wants to fully utilize the opportunity (the defeat of US in the region and the rise of Taliban) for fulfilling its interests and goals. Iran will gain the economic security from Taliban’s regime.

[1] Elias, F. “The Rise of the Taliban and Iran’s Critical Problem in Afghanistan”, Oct 28, 2022.  [1] Mearsheimer, John J. 1995. A Realist Reply. International Security, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 82-93.

Kayhan (an ultraconservative) referred Afghanistan under Taliban as a member of “Axis of Resistance”, highlighting the importance of Iranian exports of fuel to country (which has been continued since the Taliban’s takeover) and have claimed that they will bolster Iran’s “Resistance Economy”. “The Taliban have decreased import duties by one-eighth, making it considerably easier and faster for traders to clear their goods”, reported by Mohammad Mehdi Javanmard Qassab, Iran’s commercial adviser in Afghanistan. Also, the vice-President of Joint Chamber of Commerce Iran-Afghanistan “Aladdin Mir Muhammad Sadeghi” said that, “the bilateral trade between both states can reach up to $3 billion if it is assured that the promises would be kept that are made to Taliban”.[1]


[1]Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Azizi, H. “Iran and the Taliban after the US fiasco in Afghanistan”, Sep 22, 2021.

CONCLUSION

Therefore, the hypothesis that the major challenge for Iranian Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan is “Security Issues” that will prove as an obstacle in diplomatic relations between both states as well as blessing in disguise for Iran. Iranian Foreign Policy in successive regimes in post-revolutionary era towards Afghanistan faced many challenges and got many opportunities for its national interests and benefits. The pragmatic approach of Iranian Foreign Policy has navigated the diverse strategic inconveniences that are necessitated by the Taliban. The post-invasion condition (which brought the movement together with Iran) emphasizes that Iran can successfully built further diplomatic ties in various prospects by developing mutual interests like escalated trade, curbing drug and human trafficking across the border and fighting against regional troubles.

[1]Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Azizi, H. “Iran and the Taliban after the US fiasco in Afghanistan”, Sep 22, 2021.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Author is currently acquiring MPhil – International Relations at School of Politics & International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam university, Islamabad. Her Areas of Interest include; Non Traditional Security (NTS) Challenges, Escalating Regional as well as Global Insecurities, Diplomacy, Governance, Policy making and Foreign Policy.


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