TEHRAN – A Pakistani political analyst says that Iran, as an important neighbor to Afghanistan, wants a stable region that will be in its favor.
In an interview with the Tehran Times, Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai predicts that Tehran will play a “key role in the near future in shaping stability in Afghanistan.”
Yousafzai adds, “Iran, like the other regional states, wants a stable Afghanistan that is in its favor.”
The following is the text of the interview:
Q: How do you assess the achievements of Abdullah Abdullah’s visit to Tehran? Was it successful?
A: Iran, being a regional player, is crucial for any development in its neighborhood. Afghanistan is not an exception as it (Iran) has geopolitical, historical, and cultural relations with Afghanistan. Dr. Abdullah’s recent visit was an indication that Iran holds a vital role in Afghanistan. Historically, Iran was used to support the anti-Taliban factions in Afghanistan where almost all of the non-Pashtun factions were anti-Taliban. However, the post-Taliban setting in Afghanistan is quite different from the past. Iran now maintains friendly relations not only with the Afghan government, non-Pashtun groups but also with the Taliban. The Ghani-Abdullah coalition government is seeking deep cordial relations with the neighboring countries that is evident from Abdullah’s visit to Pakistan, India, and now Iran vis-à-vis their support for the future setting that could happen once the intra-Afghan talks concludes. Abdullah’s discussion on developments in Afghanistan, intra-Afghan talks,and bilateral issues with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Javad Zarif,and other Iranian officials marked Iranian role and support for the ongoing peace process that is not only in Afghanistan’s favor but also in Iran’s favor.
Q: How do you evaluate Iran’s role in seeking to establish peace in Afghanistan in view of Abdullah’s statement about Iran?
A: Iran like the other regional states want a stable Afghanistan that is in its favor. Since the U.S.-Taliban agreement, regional countries have been repositioning themselves to make the most out of a forthcoming U.S. withdrawal and a power-sharing plan among the Afghan government and the Taliban. In this regard, Iran, an important neighbor for Afghanistan, will likely play a key role in the near future in shaping stability in Afghanistan. Iran will benefit greatly from a stable and secure Afghanistan in terms of trade and cultural relations. However, Iran also stands at a critical juncture wherein the outcome or progress of the peace process will likely shift the strategies that best suit its interests: the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Iran will in all likelihood continue on its current course of openly supporting the Afghan government while encouraging intra-Afghan talks and maintaining its ties to the Taliban to keep its options open as the United States prepares to withdraw. Ultimately, Tehran would prefer that Afghanistan maintain its status as a republic as it limits the influence that other states including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, can exert on Kabul, and creates a more favorable environment for Iran to protect its own interests in Afghanistan. However, Iran’s main goal is peace though the U.S. withdrawal and a peace agreement that Hassan Rouhani reiterated in his meeting with Dr. Abdullah.
Q: How do you see the role of India and Pakistan in the Afghanistan peace talks?
A: There is a sharp contrast when it comes to Pakistan and India’s role in the Afghan peace talks. The peace talks were first between the U.S. and the Taliban and now between the Afghan government and the Taliban. India did not want the Taliban to become a part of the Kabul administration due to their close links with Pakistan. Back in the 1990s, India supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, an act which still maintains a gap between India and the Taliban. Following the U.S-Taliban agreement, Taliban ex-chief negotiator, Mullah Abbas Stanakzai told the media: India should play a positive role in Afghanistan, a statement that indicated India’s negative role in Afghanistan. Even India, the only country in the world who saw the U.S.-Taliban agreement with suspicion, and was not in favor of the deal. On the other hand, Pakistan has cordial relations with the Taliban since their rise in the mid-1990s that provides its leverage over the Taliban. The U.S. was persistently asking Pakistan to push the Taliban for a peace deal that could pave the way for their successful withdrawal. The U.S.-Taliban peace talks headed towards a positive end once Pakistan freed Mullah Biradar, who had been in jail in Pakistan since 2010.
Q: Do you expect the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan reach a long-term agreement?
A: If we look at the whole peace process in Afghanistan since 2009, the U.S. was trying for a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. However, the Taliban were always against this idea as they saw Americans as the real decision makers in Kabul. Following the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, the Taliban has now an upper hand on the table. Their gains against the U.S. has encouraged them to have a favorable bargain with the Afghan government. On the other hand, the Afghan government has no other way but to sign a deal with the Taliban as their position is weak in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal. Trump’s withdrawal announcement has put significant pressure on the Kabul administration, where they will have to defend the country against the mighty Taliban if there is no U.S. military support that will put them in hot waters.
Q: How is Iran’s relations with different parties in Afghanistan?
A: Iran’s relations are balanced with both the Afghan government and the Taliban. Iran considers the U.S. presence a threat for their security. The Taliban’s struggle against the U.S. is likely to fulfill Iran’s desire: the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will put Tehran and the Taliban on one page. Besides, Iran sees Taliban as part of the government in near future with whom they would like to have a cordial relationship. A stable Afghanistan is in Iran’s favor.
Q: What are the main obstacles of to peace in Afghanistan?
A: Any future political setup in Kabul now lies in the Afghan hands in shape of the intra-Afghan talks. The U.S. wants to withdraw its troops and hand over the charge of security to the Afghans. Any political settlement between the Kabul administration and the Taliban is not a simple process. Both the parties have been fighting against one another for the last two decades, having opposite views about the governance and political system. Kabul wants democracy while the Taliban are pushing for an Islamic system. The Kabul administration wants to prolong the process till the result of the U.S. elections. If Joe Biden wins, they assume he may withdraw from the U.S.-Taliban agreement that will give enough room to the Afghan elite to rule for another term. However, there are little possibility for this to happen. Furthermore, Kabul is pushing the Taliban for a ceasefire before any deal, while the Taliban are not accepting it by calling it before time. Since the start of the intra-Afghan talks on September 12, both sides have not still agreed on the agenda of the talks that shows their hardening stances. A negotiation process can only succeed once the parties soften their stances and go for give and take.