No Comment — June 8, 2007, 9:30 am

Iran and the Taliban–Less Than Meets the Eye?

Brian Ross and Chris Isham over at ABC News – who have been on a streak lately with important breaks in the intelligence arena – offer a report today on evidence that the Iranians are involved supplying Taliban forces in Afghanistan:

NATO officials say they have caught Iran red-handed, shipping heavy arms, C4 explosives and advanced roadside bombs to the Taliban for use against NATO forces, in what the officials say is a dramatic escalation of Iran’s proxy war against the United States and Great Britain.

And they note that Defense Secretary Gates is extremely cautious about these claims:

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stopped short earlier this week of blaming Iran, saying the U.S. did not have evidence “of the involvement of the Iranian government in support of the Taliban.”

Easy as it is these days to impute all sorts of dastardly motives to the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the various Iranian rogue elements, this doesn’t quite make sense. Iran has no love lost for the United States, to be sure, but neither has it ever had decent relations with the Taliban, who made a point of persecuting Shiia Muslims in Afghanistan when they ran the country. If Iran has had objectives in Afghanistan, then, it’s been to hold the Taliban in check and to protect the Shiia minority. And for the moment at least that aligns pretty well with American policy. And I’d be very cautious about reading too much into the fact that the arms are Iranian sourced or Iranian made as evidence of Iranian intent to side with the recipients (that may be the case, but profit motive counts for much in this world of ours).

(This reminds me of a conference I sat through many years ago in Central Asia in which a Chinese scholar was meticulously establishing a claim to the territory of one of the Central Asian states on the basis of archaeological digs which turned up Chinese coins. “I love that analysis,” I responded, “because on the basis of it most of the known world would be American due to the global dispersion of American dollar bills.”)

I turned to NYU’s Barney Rubin, who may be America’s leading Afghanistan expert, and who is just back from Kabul, for some analysis of these issues. Among other endearing traits, Barney is prone to quote entire stanzas from Sheridan, especially when he’s enjoyed a bit too much wine.

He comments:

It’s a fact that there are Iranian weapons in Afghanistan being used by Taliban. It’s an unmentioned but far more obvious fact that there are weapons from Pakistan everywhere with the Taliban.

True, some intelligence states that Iranians may have supplied Taliban with low level small amount of training. On the other hand, the Taliban openly train, recruit, rest, and raise funds in Pakistan, our no. 1 non-NATO ally, and the media seems to be essentially oblivious to that.

Now the Iranians say not only that they do not support the Taliban but that this is a consensus view of all Iranian agencies (IRGC, Quds, Ministry for Foreign Affairs) and that they have warned Afghan President Karzai against bringing Taliban into the government as this is a “red line” for them. The Iranians admit giving aid to Northern Alliance political groups as they are their friends but deny that it is aimed against Karzai. The Iranians say you can buy any weapons in the Pakistani tribal territories, including theirs. They ask who benefits from these accusations? And the answer (unstated) is: Pakistan.

It is possible that they are trying to keep the U.S. off balance and sending a message about what they can do if attacked. But their diplomats say that stability in Afghanistan is a priority and that there are lots of other places from which the U.S. can attack them and where they can respond. It is also possible that they are hedging against future instability in order to keep channels open to all parties. In case the U.S. and NATO leave Afghanistan, an eventuality for which they must be prepared, they don’t want to leave Pakistan a monopoly on relations with the Taliban. Some U.S. diplomats say the Iranians are like U.S. corporations giving money to all parties. But, to follow that analogy, if Iran is giving anything to the Taliban, it is doing so even more grudgingly than corporations give to Democrats.

Summing up: these reports should be follow-up upon, of course, but they need to be treated very skeptically.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Post
Inside the July Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Post
Europe’s Hamilton Moment·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Percentage of British citizens who say that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom:

27

In the United Kingdom, a penis-shaped Kentish strawberry was not made by snails.

The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today