Following the collapse of the Afghan government and Taliban takeover of Kabul, Iran looks to Afghanistan’s future with optimism, claiming there is a chance for durable peace. Earlier this week, the Taliban took control of the presidential palace and capital city of Kabul after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Since President Joe Biden announced the September 11 deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops, the Taliban has been on the offensive, seizing many of the nation’s provincial capitals. But their victory in Kabul on Sunday marked a devastating end to a two decade effort to restore Afghanistan’s government after the Taliban’s previous rule from 1996 to 2001. The international community—and Afghan civilians—fear what is to come. Yet, Iran’s president seems hopeful for stability.
“America’s military defeat and its withdrawal must become an opportunity to restore life, security and durable peace in Afghanistan,” Iran’s state TV quoted President Ebrahim Raisi as saying. “Iran backs efforts to restore stability in Afghanistan and, as a neighboring and brother nation, Iran invites all groups in Afghanistan to reach a national agreement,” he continued.
As Afghanistan’s neighbor, Iran has a significant stake in its stability. The nation already hosts over 2 million undocumented and about 800,000 registered Afghan refugees, according to Reuters. Those numbers are likely to multiply, as civilians attempt to escape Afghanistan fearing for their futures. Because Iran’s economy has been stifled by U.S. sanctions, they will struggle to support the inevitable influx of refugees following the Taliban’s renewal of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Iran has prepared accommodation in three provinces to provide temporary safe-haven for new Afghan refugees.
Shi’ite Muslim Iran and the Taliban have historically been in opposition due to their fundamental ideological differences, as the Taliban originate from hardline Sunni Islam. Yet, for the last few years, Iranian officials have been meeting openly with Taliban leaders. According to the Washington Post, Iran has established ties with certain Taliban factions, and even “softened its tone towards the extremist group.” More recently, some ultraconservative Iranian officials—aligned with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Raisi—have optimistically defended what they deem to be a new and improved Taliban. In June, Iran’s hardline Kayhan newspaper, linked to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, argued that “The Taliban today is different from the Taliban that beheaded people.” Moreover, the U.S. has previously accused Iran of providing covert aid to the Taliban, in an effort to hinder U.S. forces. Iran has denied these accusations, and stands by their claim to support an inclusive Afghan government which represents all ethnic groups and sects.
Barring intervention, Afghanistan is poised to collapse under the will of Taliban rule, or erupt into a violent civil war. Neither outcome bodes well for Afghanistan’s neighbors, nor Afghan civilians. It is incumbent upon Iran and Pakistan—two nations with significant investment in the stability of Afghanistan—to exert their influence and immediately initiate and facilitate peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s remaining government. Both Iran and Pakistan have expressed that a power-sharing agreement is their ideal outcome for Afghanistan’s future. Additionally, international organizations including NATO and the UN need to closely monitor Afghanistan for human rights abuses during this uncertain transition.