The Taliban’s Comeback Is a Conundrum for Iran

The Taliban’s Comeback Is a Conundrum for Iran
Taliban fighters outside Kabul University, in Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2021 (AP Photo by Bernat Armangue).
No one in the Iranian government was sad to see U.S. and NATO troops leave Afghanistan. In fact, Tehran would prefer to have the Taliban next-door than often-hostile Western powers. But Shiite-majority Iran has also been a target of attacks in the past from the Sunni Islamist Taliban, and it worries that if Afghanistan descends into chaos, it could negatively affect Iran’s ability to exert influence and trade with its neighbor—or worse, that the volatility could spill over into Iran. Tehran will have to pull off a delicate balancing act if it’s to benefit from the U.S. and NATO withdrawal. 

Iran has had a rocky relationship with the Taliban. The group killed Iranian diplomatic personnel and an Iranian journalist at Iran’s consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, during the years when it last controlled most of Afghanistan. These murders earned the Taliban a reputation for viciousness among the Iranian public, and the government came close to ordering a military response. Tehran actively supported the U.S. in ousting the Taliban and setting up a new government in Kabul in 2001. But Iran has also pragmatically worked with the Taliban when it had to, particularly from the 2010s onward, even forging links with parts of the group as a way to hedge its bets and maintain some influence with a powerful force in Afghanistan that was rapidly regaining strength. 

Today, despite Iran’s relief at the U.S. withdrawal and its own improved ties with the Taliban, there are several aspects of the group’s takeover that put Tehran on edge. 

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review