Taliban Divergence in Russia-Iran Relations?

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On October 27, 2021; just a week after the Summit in Moscow hosted by Russia, a conference on Afghanistan was held in Tehran, Iran on 20 October 2021. The meetings in question demonstrate that the concerns of the states in Afghanistan’s immediate vicinity in the face of regional developments remain up-to-date.

In the meantime, it was seen that the provisional government established by the Taliban in Afghanistan had not yet overcome the issue of recognition on September 7, 2021. Moreover, the emphasis that comes to the forefront of the conferences is the demand for the formation of an inclusive government in that country where all ethnic and sectarian identity groups will feel belonging. This requires the Taliban to share power and means that it will not be easy for the current Taliban leadership to overcome the problem of recognition.

The Taliban’s expectation of the international community and therefore the helded summits is to recognize the government it has established and to restart economic aid to the country in order to overcome the economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Although the meetings have come a long way in terms of launching financial aid, it is unlikely that the Taliban will overcome the problem of recognition, at least in the short term.

Moreover, it is understood that even capital cities such as Moscow and Tehran, which have established positive relations with the Taliban in order to expel the United States from Afghanistan, do not like the scenario of an Afghanistan in which the Taliban rule alone. Thus, it is thought that the pressure on the Taliban will increase in the future. But there is one other thing that stands out at the summits. This is a divergence in Russia and Iran’s policies in Afghanistan.

When looking at the divergence in question, it is necessary to mention an overlooked situation regarding the summits held first. This is whether the parties should give the Taliban the right to representation in the meetings. The summit in Moscow was attended by Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as a senior Taliban delegation headed by Abdulselam Hanefi, deputy prime minister of the government formed by the Taliban. However, İran did not invite the Taliban to the conference in Tehran, bringing only Afghanistan’s neighbors and Russia together. Moreover, it has been observed that Russia and China attended the meeting in the online format and in a sense did not care enough about the meeting. Undoubtedly, this table shows a significant difference in the approach of Russia and Iran to the Taliban.

First of all, if need to mention Tehran’s approach, it should be emphasized that Iran actually has undeniable relations with the Taliban. As a matter of fact, in January 2021, the Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdulgani Brother visited Tehran, where he met with Ali Shamhani, secretary general of Iran’s Supreme Council of National Security, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, then Iranian Foreign Minister.[1] Similarly, Tehran brought together the parties to the Afghan Problem in July of that year, including the Taliban delegation.[2] In addition, there are strong claims that the Taliban already have representations in the Iranian cities of Zahedan and Mashhed. In short, there is a significant change in Iran’s approach to the organization, which did not call the Taliban to the conference on October 27, 2021, through anti-Americanism.

The main reason for this change is the assumption that the Taliban government would compete sectarianly with Iran in an Afghanistan without the United States, and in this sense, negative memories that remain in the memory of Iranian decision-makers regarding the first Taliban era. It can also be said that Iran considers Hazara and Tajik factors in its Afghanistan policy.

As is known, Iran is trying to position itself as the religious-political consistency of all Shias on earth. In this context, Tehran believes that Hazaras, also referred to as Afghan Shias, should be strengthened politically and care about this identity group. However, there has been an increase in attacks in Afghanistan recently by the terrorist group State’l Iraq and Damascus, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, (ISIS), and the group has targeted Hazara areas and Shia mosques in its actions.

In contrast, the Taliban appear to ignore the aforementioned attacks too much. This creates the idea that Iran cannot trust the Taliban in the protection of Shias. For this reason, Iran seeks different sectarian-based searches through Hizb-i Vahdet. Moreover, Tehran is working to establish a connection between warlords such as Alipur Shamshir and the Fatimayun Brigade; in other words, it is stated by local sources that it is preparing for a possible proxy war. It is possible for Iran to mobilize Shias in the fight against ISIS. As a matter of fact, the Syrian Civil War has brought significant experience to both tehran’s leadership and Afghan Shias.

One of the issues affecting Iran’s policy in Afghanistan is the country’s Persian World-themed expectations and goals. Accordingly, Tehran cares as much about Afghan Tajiks as the Hazaras and has various contacts with members of the Jamaa-i-Islam Party. In fact, Iran’s implicit support for the Penshir/National Resistance Forces is due to the Tajik factor in Iranian foreign policy. Therefore, Tehran argues that Tajiks should be represented fairly in the comprehensive government it desires to establish in Afghanistan. However, in the context of neither Hazaras nor Tajiks, a balance was observed in the Taliban’s government to meet Iran’s expectations.

All these reasons lead to Iran’s disregard for the Taliban. Therefore, the Taliban were not invited to the conference on October 27, 2021. But it is clear that the Taliban is a fact of Afghanistan, and that pushing the Taliban off the table on Afghanistan-related issues does not coincide with the actual situation. In other words, Iran held a summit where the Afghan Problem was discussed, but did not include the primary interlocutor of the issue at the meeting. This prevented a concrete conclusion from the conference in Tehran.

Moreover, Tehran’s approach has revealed its divergence with Moscow, its traditional ally in the Middle East. Because the messages from Russia point to a very different point than Iran’s strategy.

Russia, which also invited the Taliban to the summit in Moscow, has voiced a comprehensive government request, but has accepted the Taliban as its interlocutor and is making moves to overcome the movement’s legitimacy. Indeed, after the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that he planned to remove the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations and that economic assistance should be provided to ensure security in Afghanistan.[3]

Russia has two important expectations regarding its policy in Afghanistan. The first is the formation of a comprehensive government in Afghanistan. In other words, the Kremlin does not want an Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban alone. But Russia also sees the Taliban as a reality of the country.

The second is to prevent Afghanistan-based radicalization from spreading to Central Asia and from there to Russian Muslims; in other words, to prevent proxy wars from reaching Russian territory. The way to do this is for the Taliban to align with the international community in the fight against terrorism, especially ISIS.

BAt this point, it is worth returning to Putin’s statement that the Taliban could be removed from the list of groups recognized by Russia as terrorist organizations. It should be noted that; The most important issue influencing Moscow’s position is the idea that the Taliban should be drawn to the basis of international cooperation. Moscow believes that otherwise the Taliban could be radicalized, but also believes that the group can engage with various terrorist groups and pose a threat to Russia’s national security. Moscow believes that the Taliban should appear internationally as a more legitimate actor to prevent this, and is making an effort to influence Afghanistan’s future through its contacts with the Taliban.

In summary, Moscow welcomes the perception of the Taliban as a legitimate actor and signals that it will improve its de facto cooperation with the movement. Iran, by contrast, considers that the radicalization of the Taliban is better suited to gaining power over the Hazaras and Tajiks and prepares for proxy wars. This suggests that Iran is much closer to actors like France in Afghanistan policy than Russia.

As a result, there is a serious divergence in the policy of Russia and Iran in Afghanistan, which have strategic relations, and the difference in the policies of the parties is becoming more visible every day. The fact that the Taliban invited to the meeting in Moscow was not invited to the conference in Tehran confirms this differentiation. Therefore, it can be suggested that the Russia-Iran divergence can be observed more clearly through the developments in Afghanistan in the coming period.

[1] “İran Dışişleri Bakanı Zarif ile Taliban Heyeti Tahran’da Bir Araya Geldi”, Anadolu Ajansı,, (Date of Accession: 27.10.2021).

[2] “In Tehran Talks, Iran Offers Help to Resolve Afghan Crisis”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 27.10.2021).

[3] “چنین صفحه‌ای وجود ندارد”, Azadi Radio,, (Date of Accesion: 27.10.2021).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.