Why Iran Needs To Talk With The Taliban

The Trump administration is preparing a public argument for war on Iran. The Washington Times has some ‘senior administration officials’ claiming that Iran is allied with al-Qaeda and thus could and should be attacked:

Iran-al Qaeda alliance may provide legal rationale for U.S. military strikes

Iran is providing high-level al Qaeda operatives with a clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money and weapons across the Middle East, according to Trump administration officials who warn that the long-elusive, complex relationship between two avowed enemies of America has evolved into an unacceptable global security threat.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in the days after the 9/11 attacks provided the legal framework for President George W. Bush to order U.S. military action against the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. The law has underpinned the U.S. counterterrorism campaign and has largely gone unchanged for the past 17 years through three presidential administrations.

Congressional and legal sources say the law may now provide a legal rationale for striking Iranian territory or proxies should President Trump decide that Tehran poses a looming threat to the U.S. or Israel and that economic sanctions are not strong enough to neutralize the threat.

That Iran is colluding with al-Qaeda, which it actively fights in Syria and Iraq, is obviously nonsense. When the U.S. attacked Afghanistan some families of al-Qaeda fighters fled to Iran where they were put under house arrest. They were and still are hostages Iran uses to prevent al-Qaeda attacks against its country. The Washington Times admits this:

One captured 2007 document, apparently written by an al Qaeda operative, concluded that, in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion of neighboring Iraq, “Iranian authorities decided to keep our brothers as a bargaining chip.”

At the recent conferences in Warsaw and Munich the Trump administration failed to gain any European support for its anti-Iran strategy. Iraq has likewise rejected all U.S. attempts to position it against Iran. If the U.S. wants to attack Iran it will need to go it alone. Its ‘allies’ west of the Persian Gulf will give financial support but are not a serious military force. What they can do though is to ramp up terrorism against Iran.

The former Indian ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar suspects that the U.S. is trying to envelope Iran from the east to establish land routes that can be used for such purposes. The plan includes Pakistan and even the Afghan Taliban:

[T]oday, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Israel’s covert allies in West Asia. They are joined at the hips in the project to overthrow the Iranian regime. We may expect that the Af-Pak could become a major theatre from where their covert operations would be launched with the help of Pakistan under the watch and protection of the US to destabilise Iran.Tehran has repeatedly alleged that the two Arab states are working in tandem with the US and Israel.

After last Tuesday’s fedayeen attack in Iran’s southeastern region of Sistan-Baluchistan bordering Pakistan (in which 27 Iranian troops were killed in circumstances eerily similar to what happened in Pulwama), top Iranian generals have openly alleged the role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Unsurprisingly, Saudis and the Emiratis who are bankrolling the Pakistani economy, have come to call the shots in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Tehran is expecting turbulent times.

[W]e have an explosive mix today, such as we have never come across before in our region and which no one could have foreseen previously — except, indeed, the astute mind of Hamid Karzai— whereby the Taliban leadership has come under immense Pakistani pressure to eschew its “Afghan-ness” and accede to the US wish list on an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan (which is also backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Israel.)

Bhadrakumar points to several recent incidents that suggest that such a plan is indeed in the making. He urges the Indian government to renew its alliance with Iran to counter such acts.

The Taliban will not like any plan that leaves foreign forces in their country. Removing all foreign forces from Afghanistan has always been their foremost aim. Yesterday the Taliban negotiators were supposed to meet their U.S. counterparts in Islamabad where they would also have talks with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and probably with Khan’s current guest, Clown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. They canceled the talks on short notice. They may want to avoid additional pressure to submit to the U.S. plans of keeping some troops on Afghan ground.

Iran is also in talks with the Taliban. It may be able to offer them an alternative to the support they get from Pakistan. The U.S. has left the Afghan government in Kabul out of its talks with the Taliban while Iran kept it fully informed. Kabul may also prefer Iranian help in mediating an end of the long conflict.

Securing its eastern flank will be a high priority for Iran. A bid to change the allegiance of the Taliban from Pakistan to Iran may be the best way to achieve that.

Cover photo: Tehran holding talks with the Taliban (December 2018)

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