Thursday, April 22, 2021

Will It Be ‘Daggers Drawn’ Between Iran & Afghan-Taliban Again After Zarif’s ‘Terror List’ Remark?

The new world order is paving the way for the formation of two powerful blocs. Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and Malaysia supported by China and Russia are on one side, with the likely inclusion of the Afghan-Taliban. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the UAE, and other Arab states are in the rival bloc supported by the US and Israel, along with India. 

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The former bloc supports Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir, which is the crux of what has happened since August 6, 2020, when Pakistan distanced itself from the KSA-run Organization of Islamic Countries, while the latter is supportive of the Indian standpoint.

But, the latest stance of Iran seems to have spoiled Pakistan’s applecart and has brought the much-awaited melody to India’s ears with the Islamic country signaling its support for the Ashraf Ghani government which is slated to transfer power to the Afghan-Taliban (AT).

In order to please the incoming dispensation under the US President-elect Joseph Biden, Iran seems to be weighing every step to placate and keep Biden in good humor in the expectation that he will again revive the civilian nuclear deal, which was a brainchild of the Obama administration but was overturned by Donald Trump. 

Speculation is rife that Biden would renegotiate with the Iran regime, even ignoring Israel which has reportedly sent its submarine into the straits of Hormuz on December 21, with USS Nimitz already parked there since September in a show of strength, amid indications that a US-led war on the Islamic country is imminent.

Perhaps, in order to squeeze political advantage from the US, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javed Zarif gave an elaborate interview to TOLONews, a popular news site in Afghanistan, on December 21, maintaining that the Afghan-Taliban continues to be on Iran’s terror-list. The UN has kept the group off its list of 61 terrorist organizations. 

The interview was bound to stoke controversy as Zarif openly acknowledged that his government had sent around 2,000 Afghan-origin fighters to fight as Fatemiyoun Brigade for the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad. Iran and Russia have been supportive of Asad while the KSA and Daesh (the ISIS) have been against it. 

Zarif called the erstwhile Northern Alliance government of Ahmed Shah Masood as ‘lawful’ which was toppled by the Taliban. The US, in fact, turned out to be the architect of the dreaded Daesh and now has eliminated it too from Syria.

AFGHAN-TALIBAN

Zarif told TOLONews, “The Taliban has committed many terrorist acts,” and “we have not removed the Taliban (from our list of) terrorist groups.” 

His statement attracted a sharp response from the Taliban, which said, “The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] is not on any UN terror list and comments by the Iranian Foreign Minister in this regard are based on faulty information. We urge Iranian officials to avoid aggravating Afghan sensitivities with such irresponsible statements,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, as quoted by the Anadolu Agency on December 22. 

Interestingly, the comments had come immediately after the Ghani government’s National Security advisor Hamdullah Muhid had visited Tehran.

In an extremely precarious situation when the US is slated to leave Afghanistan after 19 years, with the President-elect Joseph Biden speculated to have decided to ‘rent the war’ to Blackwater, India stands firmly behind the Ghani government. Iran’s latest moves have shown convergence of interests with India and the US while ruffling the feathers with the Afghan-Taliban. 

This assumes more importance since Iran had recently kicked out India from its Chabahar project as it entered into a $400-billion agreement with China, which is now considered to be supportive of the Taliban since it intends to extend its Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan, as well as to Iran, something which the US won’t like.

No doubt, in the last couple of years, Iran gained significantly from the Afghan-Taliban, which helped Tehran to ward-off any possible US attack from Afghanistan. And if it weren’t for the Taliban, Iran could never have been able to assassinate the CIA top official Michael D Andrea, that too within a month of the US killing its General Qasem Suleimani on January 3, 2020. 

There have been quite a few Taliban delegations to Iran too in the recent past. What has baffled the Taliban is the claim Zarif has made of sending the Fatemiyoun Brigade to rescue the Ghani government in order to thwart Daesh, whereas the fact is Daesh is what the Taliban wants to eliminate.

The net result of such a move will only bolster Ghani to the detriment of the Taliban. Maybe such a statement had come after the green signal from Biden but nothing is certain at the moment.

Today, there is a changed scenario. The Arabs are embracing Israel. A war on Iran by the US and Israel with the help of Arab states is a grim and inevitable reality. Pakistan did not approve of Israel and is isolated by the Arabs. 

Turkey endorsed Kashmir sentiment and is with Pakistan, which along with China, is raring for a war with India. India is with the Arab states and Qatar, which is seen to be pro-Turkey, hence anti-KSA, has been sent with a ‘confidential letter’ of India’s PM Narendra Modi by External Affair Minister S Jaishankar on December 28. 

Will India be able to coax Qatar into abandoning Turkey? That would mean a greater loss to Pakistan, and how Biden streamlines Iran policy to the disenchantment in Tel Aviv is yet to be seen. All this while India, Israel, the US, and the QUAD prepare to lock horns with China and Pakistan in the Himalayas, or in the South China Sea, or it could be a misadventure against Iran by the US, Israel, and the KSA.   


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