Iran’s ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Reza Bahrami, says his country won’t help terrorists or extremists
By NATHAN HODGE and EHSANULLAH AMIRI
WSJ, June 18, 2015
KABUL—Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan said his country is not providing weapons and cash to the Taliban to bolster the militant group as a counterweight to Islamic State.
Mohammad Reza Bahrami was responding to a Wall Street Journal report that outlined how Taliban commanders received financial and military backing from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“We haven’t supported Taliban and we will not support any terrorism and extremism groups,” the ambassador said in an interview.
Western officials say Iran has quietly stepped up support for the Taliban as a way to maintain influence with the group that continues to press its military campaign against the Kabul government. Tehran, they say, sees the Taliban as a potential force that could return to power.
A Shiite theocracy, Iran has a complex relationship with the Taliban, a Sunni Deobandi extremist movement that originated in southern Afghanistan. Tehran nearly went to war against the then-Taliban regime in Kabul after the Iranian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif was overrun in 1998.
But Iran, which has maintained an overtly anti-American foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution, has been delivering weapons to the Taliban since at least 2007, according to a 2014 Pentagon report.
Mr. Bahrami, who served as a diplomat in Afghanistan during the country’s civil war in the 1990s, said it wasn’t Iran’s policy to back terrorist groups even if they indirectly supported Iran’s interests.
“The enemy of my enemy isn’t necessarily a friend,” he said. “Let’s not forget that terrorism is terrorism, extremism is extremism, and both have similar dangers.”
The Iranian diplomat, however, did discuss what he described as a new danger to the region: the rise of Sunni Salafi Wahhabi extremist group Islamic State. Western officials say Iran has boosted its backing to the Deobandi Taliban in part to counterbalance the rise of the Salafi Islamic State, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, and which has started recruiting followers in Afghanistan.
“According to reports, Daesh is reinforcing its base and looking for new recruits,” Mr. Bahrami said, referring to Islamic State by its Arabic acronym. “We see this as a potential threat for Afghanistan and the region.”