The Iran Project

Why Iran has opened up about engagement with Taliban


Al-Monitor | Mohsen Shariatinia: After years of accusations, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani confirmed that Iran had been holding talks with the Taliban during a Dec. 26 visit to neighboring Afghanistan. Shortly after this trip, Taliban representatives headed to Tehran to discuss the Afghani peace process with Iranian officials.

Redefining the Taliban is part of Tehran’s strategy of defensive engagement in its efforts to adapt to the changing geopolitics of Afghanistan. Ever since the Soviet invasion in 1979, Iran has been deeply engaged with the successive Afghani crises. This engagement has at times been offensive and at other times defensive.

For instance, the shocking events of Sept. 11, 2001, placed Iran in a position of offensive engagement. The Islamic Republic played an active role in the collapse of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate as well as the Afghani state-building process following the 2001 US invasion, beginning with the 2001 Bonn conference and continuing into recent years. The Bonn conference forged limited Iranian engagement with the United States that in turn helped the Northern Alliance, thus positioning Iran as one of the latter’s allies in the Afghani state-building process. Another outcome was the expansion of Iran’s economic and trade relations with Afghanistan.

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