Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, led a delegation of senior officials and commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on a one-day visit to the Afghan capital Kabul on December 26.
Brigadier-General Gholamreza Mehrabi, Deputy Security and Intelligence commander of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Brigadier-General Esmail Ghaani, Deputy Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force (IRGC-QF), accompanied Secretary Shamkhani on his visit.
Admiral Shamkhani reportedly visited Kabul at the invitation of Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser. According to the Tasnim News Agency, the Iranian delegation and Afghan officials discussed a wide range of issues, including increased border cooperation to combat terrorism and drug trafficking. However, the primary purpose of the visit was for Iran to initiate, organize and mediate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Although Tehran has continually denied any contacts with the Taliban, Afghan security officials believe that the Islamic Republic has provided military and financial assistance to the group in the last decade.
“All contacts and talks with the Taliban have occurred with the full knowledge of the Afghan government, and will continue in the same way,” Mr. Shamkhani said after a meeting with the government officials in Kabul.
In separate meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and the Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Mr. Shamkhani reiterated Iran’s commitment to strengthening military and security cooperation between the two countries and working towards establishing peace in Afghanistan.
Shamkhani and his delegation traveled to Kabul less than a week after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. The move could enable Iran to extend its influence on the Afghan government by initiating and brokering peace talks with the Taliban.
In his meeting with the senior Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, Admiral Shamkhani warned: “The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are hatching a sinister and dangerous plot aimed at regrouping, reorganizing and reestablishing Daesh [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS] in Afghanistan.”
The Islamic Republic appears to support the Taliban and al-Qaeda as a way of countering the possible resurgence of ISIS in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. Shamkhani’s trip is a massive diplomatic initiative by Iran to establish a strong foothold in Afghanistan. The U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned eight people last month, two of whom were IRGC members.
Improving ties with its neighbors would also give the Islamic Republic access to border areas which could enable the regime to circumvent U.S. sanctions that have cripples Iran’s economy.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]