Prominent Afghan jihadi leader Amir Ismail Khan has warned the Iranian government against providing military and financial assistance to the Taliban militants in Afghanistan. “Support for the Taliban will strain our relations and enemies will never be able to secure your borders,” he said at a gathering in western Herat Province on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. He also condemned Russia’s growing ties with the Taliban and called on both Tehran and Moscow to “learn from the past and stop aiding the Taliban.”
Comment: For many decades, Ismail Khan has been arguably the most influential leader in Herat Province, which borders Iran. In 1979, Khan defected from the Afghan Army and fought the Soviet troops and the Communist-backed Afghan regime until the ultimate mujahedin victory in 1992. During this period, he maintained close ties with Iran. And when the Taliban emerged in Kandahar in 1994 and advanced to western Afghanistan the following year, Ismail Khan and a sizable number of his forces, after initial battlefield victories, escaped to Iran. After the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001, Khan served as a cabinet minister in the Karzai government and unsuccessfully ran for the office of presidency. He is a key member of Afghanistan’s powerful Jamiat-e Islami party.
The warning by Ismail Khan, who has had close relations with Iran for decades, shows that Afghan leaders have lost patience with Tehran’s double game in Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic, on the one hand, has cultivated a friendly relationship with the post-Taliban Afghan governments, but on the other hand, continues to provide weapons and money to terrorist groups that undermine the U.S.-led stabilization efforts in the country.
The Afghan media has recently reported that ties between Iran and the Taliban are deepening, and Afghan leaders allege that the Islamic Republic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) is increasingly supporting the Taliban to destabilize western Afghanistan. On February 9, the top American commander in Afghanistan also told Congress that Iranian government is assisting the Taliban. He also noted that Tehran is also recruiting Shiite fighters in Afghanistan and deploying them to defend the Syrian regime of Iran’s ally Bashar al-Assad. "Russia, Iran, and al Qaeda are playing significant roles in Afghanistan—this wasn't the case a few years ago," the American general testified. “I believe [these actions] are in part to undermine the United States and NATO, and prevent this strong partnership that we have with the Afghans in the region,” he told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing.