Iranian State-Run Newspaper Reports Creation of Shiite Proxy Against Taliban

July 20, 2021 19:16, Last Updated: July 21, 2021 19:00
By Venus Upadhayaya ,

Iran has called on a Shiite proxy force to “rise up” and fight against the Taliban terrorist group, according to Jomhouri-e Eslami, a newspaper owned by the Iranian regime, in a front-page story on July 19.

The newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, reported that the new militia, Harshad Al-Shiite, will fight the Taliban.

“To fight against the Taliban, Harshad Al-Shiite rise in Afghanistan,” reads the lead in Farsi.

The news, also reported by Middle Eastern media including Al Arabiya and Radio Farda, has sparked a storm of reactions from Afghan netizens and analysts.

In a previous article, The Epoch Times reported that the complicated situation inside Afghanistan could provide greater opportunities for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to create its own Shiite proxy and to exploit the situation to develop Shiite fundamentalism inside Afghanistan.

While there’s not much currently known about Hashad Al-Shiite, the newspaper reported that the leader of the new Shiite force inside Afghanistan is likely to be someone with a history in Iraq, such as leading the Hashad Al-Shabi, a Shiite militia formed in Iraq.

Hamid Bahrami, a former political prisoner in Iran and independent Middle East analyst based in Glasgow, Scotland, told The Epoch Times that Hashad Al-Shabi was formed by deceased IRGC Quds Force Commander Qaseem Soleimani, and it’s very likely that his successor, Esmail Ghaani, would lead the Afghan version.

“Hashad Al-Shabi acts in favor of IRGC in Iraq. It’s just the beginning,” Bahrami said. “Remember, Soleimani’s successor has expertise in Afghanistan affairs.”

Bahrami said Iran knows that the United States can use the Taliban as a Trojan horse against it. He said the United States “aims to keep this card for a possible clash with Iran.”

“A U.S.–Iran military conflict is on the horizon because Iran will never abandon its nuclear ambitions,” he said. “The main reason that the IRGC seeks to build its own Shiite proxy is it understands that the Taliban can easily shift allegiance. The Taliban realizes that it can make a deal with a superpower like the United States.”

In response to news about Iran’s Shiite proxy inside Afghanistan, Qasim Wafayezada, the former head of Afghanistan’s civil aviation authority and the author of the book “Ethnic Politics and Peacebuilding in Afghanistan,” wrote on Twitter: “Incitement of security threats against the people of Afghanistan will ignite a fire that will engulf Iran. Such mercenary gangs and tools of foreigners have no place among the people of Afghanistan!”

Strategic Hedging

As the United States approaches its deadline for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as the Taliban gains more territory, the Iranian regime’s policy of simultaneously supporting the Afghan government and the Taliban has become more pronounced.

While the Iranian regime is diplomatically engaging with President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban, it’s also creating a Shiite proxy, an action that Bahrami called “pushing Afghanistan in a deeper sectarian crisis.”

Diplomatic narratives have been the predominant tool amid the hedging. The Khomeini regime’s media mouthpieces have recently published editorials about the Sunni-dominant Taliban undergoing reforms and no longer being a threat to Shia-dominant Iran.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s FARS news site said in an editorial that Tehran wants an anti-American government in Kabul, and that the Islamic regime has reached an understanding with both the Taliban and the al-Qaeda group about this.

Amir Taheri, a veteran journalist of Iranian descent, responded to the IRGC’s editorial, calling the terror group a “smorgasbord known under the generic label Taliban” and saying that the editorial boasted that Iran “without a doubt has played a major, though complicated, role in reshaping the behavior of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

Taheri expressed surprise at the regime’s statement. “Forgetting years of denial that Iran had any relations with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the IRGC analyst now says ‘Iran has succeeded in persuading them to cooperate in securing Iran’s interests,'” he said. “Immediately afterward, Afghan parliament member Abdul-Sattar Husseini presented a report showing that Tehran had resumed shipping arms and money to the Taliban.”

Bahrami says that by talking about a “reformed Taliban,” the Iranian regime is creating a “short-term friendship” with the Taliban to gain ground and time in Afghanistan.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second right, meets with a Taliban political team, in Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 31, 2021. (Tasnim News Agency via AP)

Suspicion About the Taliban

After the editorials praising the Taliban were published, the Tehran-based reformist newspaper Shargh criticized them, calling such claims immature.

“Justifications, including that the Taliban is not the previous Taliban, are very naive,” the paper’s editorial stated. “If they prevail this time, they will use more violence against others because they are relieved of the West’s re-intervention. In addition, the Taliban have explicitly stated that they want an Islamic state, and even this idea is against the wishes of the Iranian hard-liners because such a government would define the Iranian government as its first enemy. Since the Shiites are considered infidels, they will start massacring them.”

Alef, another newspaper owned by an Iranian hardliner, published an editorial stating that mistrust of the Taliban is justified.

“Although the Taliban have not had hostile relations with Iran for years and have now given a safe deposit to the Shiites of Afghanistan, how much can we trust Salafist groups of this kind?” reads the editorial published on June 26. “If this group can dominate the whole of Afghanistan, how confident can we be about not changing its ideological nature and not leaping at the level of its ideals and goals?

Diplomatically, the Iranian regime has been trying to keep the Taliban on its good side, although behind the scenes, it’s preparing itself for a military confrontation and has put its Islamic guards on high alert on its border with Afghanistan, according to Radio Farda, an Iranian broadcaster managed by the U.S. government.

Iran’s Tasnim news agency also reported about the IRGC being on high alert on the country’s border with Afghanistan but claimed the threat was from smugglers and outlaws rather than the Taliban, and said the border is calm.

Bahrami said that while Iran and the Taliban seem to have a tactical friendship, they have long been sworn enemies.

“The U.S. overthrew the Taliban because of its terrorism, but the Taliban was an enemy against Iran. Since 2001, Iran has exploited the situation as its enemy [Taliban] has become a tactical friend. If the U.S. wants to destabilize Iran’s eastern borders, the Taliban can do this and its structure and anti-Shiite ideology encourage them to do so,” Bahrami said.

“Iran smells a threat from the Taliban. If it moves toward making a [nuclear] bomb or wants to do anything else against the U.S., the U.S. or a country like Saudi Arabia can push the Taliban against Iran.”

Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.

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