Iran’s unease over Pakistani influence in Afghanistan

A former Iranian diplomat has said that the interference of foreigners in Afghanistan is doomed to be a failure.

As with the former Soviet Union, Britain, and most recently the United States, if a country like Pakistan intervenes in Afghan matters, it will suffer the same fate, said former diplomat Mohsen Rouhi Sefat.

Sefat said experience shows that any foreign intervention in Afghanistan will end in failure, citing Britain (1839-42), the Soviet Union (1980-88) and the US (2001-2021) as examples.

“The interference of foreigners will be doomed a failure. As with the former Soviet Union, Britain, and most recently the United States, if a country like Pakistan intervenes, it will suffer the same fate,” Sefat told ISNA in an interview, Tehran Times reported.

There are certain reports claiming that Pakistan’s ISI chief General Faiz Hameed was involved in the formation of the Taliban government and the Taliban’s attack on the Panjshir Valley.

“The people of Afghanistan are against foreign intervention,” the former diplomat said, noting, “It will soon be shown that if a country intervenes, it will fail. Our advice to all neighbours and major powers is to refrain from interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs,” as per the report.

Regarding the ongoing clashes between the National Resistance Front and the Taliban in Panjshir, the Afghan affairs expert said: “The Panjshir region has 21 valleys, of which the Taliban forces have penetrated only the nearest valley where the governor’s office is located. Another 20 valleys are under the control of the opposition forces. So, we have to see what happens in the process of these conflicts.”

Tehran has also appeared to be hesitant towards Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Pakistan have developed strong ties, with some Taliban leaders being closely linked to Islamabad, TRT World reported.

The report said that despite differing accounts over the recent nature of the Taliban-Tehran connections, there are serious signs, which show that tensions between Iran, a Shia-majority country, and Pakistan, a Sunni-majority country, is increasing over the course of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The Taliban is a Sunni-dominant group.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh has also expressed Tehran’s uneasiness towards Taliban’s operation in the Panjshir valley.

“Afghanistan’s history shows that foreign intervention, both direct and indirect, has resulted in nothing but defeat for the aggressor force, and the Afghan people are independence-seeking and zealous, and certainly any intervention is doomed,” Khatibzadeh said in an indirect reference to Pakistani influence over the Taliban.

Most Taliban leaders were educated in Pakistani madrasas and the Pashtuns are also the second biggest ethnicity in Pakistan, the report added.

Fatima Karimkhan, a Tehran-based Iranian journalist, said, “Iran and Pakistan are regional competitors. Pakistan is the number one suspect in the Mazar-i Sharif attack on the Iranian consulate and now the first foreign guest of the Taliban even before they form a government is Pakistan’s ISI chief. Of course, Iran will not welcome that,” she said, TRT World reported.

In 1998, nine Iranian diplomats were killed in Mazar-i Sharif and Tehran had accused the Taliban of the attack. The Taliban had denied any involvement.

Most recently, Faiz Hameed, the chief of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI, visited Afghanistan, meeting top Taliban leaders.

Iran and the Taliban appeared to have reached some degree of regional understanding. But it turned out to be a short-lived optimism with Tehran showing signs of unease.

Iran and the Taliban have come a long way to find a common ground and narrow the differences. But in the past few days, Iran’s foreign ministry has been showing displeasure towards the Taliban taking control of the last opposition stronghold, the Panjshir valley, which signalled unease in their bilateral relations, the report said.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also had harsh words for the Taliban, echoing some of his old tirades against the world’s Jews, which were alleged to be anti-Semitic.

“A group has been supported, which is created and then trained, armed and supported by the neighbours. It has captured a country and called itself the government. The world had either been watching or supporting. This is an ugly thing in the face of the world,” he said.

But Fatima Karimkhan, a Tehran-based Iranian journalist, thinks that things are not as they used to be.

“We can see that the honeymoon is over now, but about what will come next, it’s still too soon to have a clue,” Karimkhan told TRT World.

Karimkhan also sees a lot of problems in the recently formed Afghan government.

“The Taliban had spoken about forming a multiethnic government but as you see the government is almost completely Pashtun, no role for Hazarahs, nothing for Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Shia population,” she said.

The Taliban is a Pashtun-dominated group.

On the other hand, the group “is not tolerating” any non-Taliban Mujahideen leaders like Massoud and others, she said, creating “a high level of pressure” from Iranian public opinion and media over Tehran “to step back from tolerating Taliban in Afghanistan”.

(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at