The Islamic Republic of Iran, being one of the serious players in the region, is involved in multilateral conflicts and long-standing enmities. Apart from having some permanent friends and enemies, Iran has seasonal friends and adversaries. Palestinian armed groups, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria are considered this government’s permanent friends. The countries of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are considered permanent enemies of this government. Some of the long-time friends of the Iranian government are groups that actually have armed conflicts, such as Hezbollah and Palestinian groups. Meanwhile, the friendship of the Islamic Republic of Iran with some others is seasonal, occasionally shifting from friendship to animosity and vice versa. The Taliban group in Afghanistan stands as a prominent example of this category.
When the Tehreek-e-Taliban was created with the support of Pakistan and the money of Saudi Arabia and entered Kandahar from Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran did not have a good middle ground with this group. A primary reason for the coldness of relations was the ideology of the Taliban and the religious beliefs of this group, which was in conflict with the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The second and more serious reason was the money of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s long-time rival, behind this group. When the Taliban killed eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist in the country’s consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif on August 8, 1996, their relationship turned into open enmity. The Iranian government dispatched its army along the Afghan border and was likely to attack the Taliban. Although that campaign remained behind the borderline and was limited to a military maneuver, the hostility of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Taliban continued.
In the wake of the September 11 incident, when the US-led international coalition attacked Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban, Iran aligned with this coalition and supported the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Soon after the United States came to Afghanistan and stayed, it attacked Iraq in the neighborhood of Iran constructing a military base there. Iran, feeling the heavy presence of American soldiers on both sides of its borders, entered into bloody games that led to a tragic end for everyone. The Islamic Republic of Iran started to create armed groups in Iraq, some of which were conducting operations directly against the American forces attacking their bases in the past years. At that time, the Taliban had just started expanding their terrorist activities. Iran, which was a full-fledged enemy of the Taliban group in the late 1990s and held military exercises behind the border, found the Taliban to be its “enemy of the enemy”, such as the US, extending a hand of friendship to this group. From that year onwards, the leaders of the Taliban group, who were looking for a hiding place, money, weapons, and a training camp to train terrorists and suicide bombers, the Iranian government provided them with all of these as they had found in Pakistan. The season was back and a friendship pact was made between these two old enemies.
Since 2014, another enemy has risen: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). To the extent that this group quickly took control of cities and regions of Syria and Iraq one after the other, it also rapidly conquered hostile countries. Iran, which once before America attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan, was in the same line as the United States, this time it played a prominent role in the line of enemies of ISIS. This country, which was one of the main targets of ISIS, helped to ground its enemy by forming armed groups in Iraq, Syria, and even Iran and sending them to ground war in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. At that time, some Iranians criticized the Iranian government for spending huge sums of money and endangering the lives of thousands of people. The reasoning of the Iranian government officials was that if it had not fought against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, one day it would be forced to fight against this group on the soil of Iran.
Iran, which at that time was aligned with the United States and its allies and rivals in the Middle East, at the same time, in Afghanistan, was pampering and supporting the enemy of the Afghan people and the enemy of the US at that time, the Taliban. Reports say that Iran was paying 100 million dollars to this group annually. Additionally, some Taliban leaders in Iran lived in luxurious houses granted to them by the Islamic Republic, had training camps, and received weapons and even clothes. Even now, the Islamic Republic of Iran hosts the leaders of the al-Qaeda network providing them shelter. The central sign of the friendship of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the terrorist groups al-Qaeda and the Taliban is their shared animosity with the United States.
This is because, prior to the signing of the Doha Treaty, the Taliban and the US were each other’s enemies. In the next stage, the shared enmity of the Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Iran with ISIS has strengthened this friendship. Among the terrorist groups active in the region, the only group that is hostile to the Taliban and has gained the capability to challenge this group is Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K). The Iranians thought that by supporting the Taliban, they would be able to keep the Americans away from them and use this group as cannon fodder in the war against ISIS.
It seems that Iran’s calculation regarding ISIS and the Taliban was wrong. Neither the Taliban have the ability to curb ISIS-K, nor does ISIS give up Tehran. Basically, terrorism cannot be eliminated with terrorism. It is not possible to support terrorist groups but to avoid the evil and damage of terrorism. The phenomenon of terrorism threatens the entire region today, and for those who consider themselves the owners of terrorist groups, terrorism will also take over them, just as today Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has taken over Pakistan and ISIS has taken over Iran. Both Iran and Pakistan are the main supporters of the Taliban and both support the Taliban group in similar calculations, but in the last two years when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, the security situation of these two countries has been deteriorating. Pakistan, deemed as the founder of the Taliban, has been involved in various armed groups, including TTP, in the last decade and a half. Islamabad thought that supporting the Taliban when this group came to power, would help Pakistan in the war against the TTP. Conversely, TTP, which considers itself a branch of the Afghan Taliban, has been inspired by the victory of the mother Taliban and was emboldened. Now for the last two years, Pakistan has been under the most intense attacks and the Taliban are not only supporting Islamabad but also giving shelter and camp to TTP. By dividing the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban into two groups and making them good and bad, Pakistan could not put one against the other and reduce the security threats on its soil.
Iran, which has supported the Taliban in recent years as much as Pakistan did, perhaps did not consider the fact that supporting Taliban terrorism would also strengthen ISIS terrorism. The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has motivated all terrorist groups to defeat governments and establish their own regimes based on their special interpretation of religion. The recent concerns of Iran’s foreign minister about the spread of terrorism and the news of the arrest of 28 ISIS-K members from Iran and the neutralization of 30 terrorist attacks on cities and towns in this country demonstrate that with Tehran’s support for the Taliban, ISIS has not only weakened but has also become bolder. Before this, such extensive anti-security measures had not been launched by the ISIS group in the heart of Iran. Neutralizing the plan of dozens of terrorist attacks from Tehran and several other cities shows that the threat of terrorism, including ISIS, has spread in Iran as well. If ISIS-K was able to carry out a terrorist attack in the capital of Iran and plan 30 simultaneous attacks in this country, it means that terrorism is actually active in Iran and can plan such plans after this. Due to the fact that ISIS movements have already been seen in Iran, it seems that Tehran is in the crosshairs of ISIS.
The support of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and several other countries to Taliban terrorism has emboldened ISIS and the threat of terrorism is spread in the region, including Iran. Terrorist groups without financial support and weapons and without shelters and camps do not become powerful enough to overthrow a government in Afghanistan, threaten the region, and plan 30 simultaneous attacks in Iran. When the monster of terrorism opens its mouth, it will swallow friends and enemies.