Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Iran and the Taliban: An Enemy’s Enemy is a Friend

That Shia Iran will never support Sunni fundamentalists has been an unquestioned truism until recently. After all, Sunni fundamentalists hate the Shias whom they consider as heretic as the kaffirs. Therefore, even when Iran was bracketed in the Axis of Evil, no one felt it necessary to examine if Iran was arming Sunni fundamentalists. It was during Israel’s invasion of the Gaza strip in January 2009 that the possibility of Iran arming and training (Sunni) Hamas was raised for the first time.

Now, this CNN report says that U.S. military and intelligence officials have confirmed Iran is helping the Taliban. Apparently limited training is being provided by Iran to the Taliban who travel to Iran for that purpose. My mind boggles – Sunni fanatics travelling to heretic Iran to learn from them. And why wouldn’t they? Pakistan is no longer to help the Taliban and so they go to the only big guy in the neighbourhood who will help them. After all, Iranian trained Hezbollah were able to force Israel to vacate southern Lebanon in 2000. Six years later the Hezbollah fought the Israeli army to a standstill when Israel invaded southern Lebanon.

Iran many not like the Hamas or the Taliban, but neither of them poses an existential threat to Iran. The US does, especially if Iran were to pursue its nuclear ambitions. Even though Iran faces a minor Sunni insurgency within its borders in the form of the Jundullah, it is definitely gambling that the risk involved in providing training and technology to the Taliban is worth taking if it forces the US to leave Afghanistan. The CNN report quotes a former CIA officer who did a strategic review of Afghanistan for the Obama administration last year who said the Iranians have mastered improvised explosive devices -- makeshift bombs hidden along roads and in ditches.

"They've been doing this in Lebanon, Iraq, and other places for decades," said Bruce Reidel, now a senior fellow at the Saban Institute for Middle East Policy. "They're among the best in the world in this kind of knowledge. And they're trying to transmit some of that knowledge over to the Afghan Taliban."

India definitely has reason to be worried. Technology that is available to the Taliban is very likely to be made available to militants in Kashmir. India has reasonably good relations with Shia Iran. It’s time for India to lean on its Persian friend a bit and ask Iran to see sense.

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