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Are Iran And The Taliban Colluding In The Drug Trafficking Business?

Iran is reacting mildly to recurring Taliban provocations on its frontier. Is this due to diplomatic weakness, policy incompetence or is there some murky complicity inside Iran with the Afghan drug trade?

Image of Afghan men consuming drugs on a street in Kabul.

Afghan men consume drugs on a street in Kabul.

Hamed Mohammadi


After about a week-long exchange of fire between Taliban forces and Iranian border guards (at or near Sasuli in eastern Iran) and in spite of Iranian authorities claiming the "misunderstanding" had been resolved and peace restored at the frontier, late on May 30, the Taliban were reportedly moving guns and armored troop carriers to the frontier district of Islam Qala, in northwestern Afghanistan.

On social media, the Taliban have been posting boastful videos, with one showing fighters on an armored vehicle cheering the prospect of a war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Another video shows a Taliban commander, Abdul Hamid Khurasani, warning Iranian authorities not to test the Taliban's strength, telling them "we're the real Muslims because behind the scenes, you're with the West." If Afghanistan's rulers were to order it, he warned, "God willing we shall soon conquer Iran."

On the Iranian side, while a lot of the Iranian materialis aged if not outdated, and even with the rock-bottom morale and discontent likely affecting Iranian troops, they would still need barely a day, using whatever is left from the Shah's army, to destroy the vehicles the Taliban have moved to the frontier. Iranian plane and helicopter pilots might even destroy them as target practice, though the real concern here remains the regime's inability to resolve a dispute.

Miscalculations, water flows

While Iranians might despair of their government's ability to manage diplomatic spats or their troops' resolve to defend the country, the Taliban have shown they are fully capable of exploiting the Tehran's passivity. Their brazen provocations are proof of that. Iran's leaders are in turn consistent in misinterpreting foreign affairs.

They imagined, for example, that the U.S. departure from Afghanistan would benefit Iran, when in fact (and not for the first time), the Taliban are threatening its security.

Inside Iran, differences over what constitutes the national interest have exacerbated Iran's weakness.

When the Iranian land army chief, Abdul Rahim Musavi, was asked in early August 2022 why skirmishes broke out on the frontier, he said it was because the Taliban were not yet "properly" established. The sides simply had to sit and talk, he said, to end their "misunderstandings."

But not only are the Taliban refusing to let water flow into Iran (through the Helmand river), their border troops have repeatedly shot at Iranian farmers and herders within range, or kidnapped Iranian guards, taking them into Afghanistan where they are beaten before the cameras! They have concluded the mullahs will not fight them.

Inside Iran, differences over what constitutes the national interest have exacerbated Iran's weakness. While Iran's president and foreign minister have threatened to vaguely "pressure" the Taliban over the various, unresolved issues, the Revolutionary guards insist on downplaying their gravity, effectively downgrading the government in the process.

One of their commanders, the legislator Ismail Kowsari, a member of the parliamentary national security committee, has told the website Asr-e Iran that Iran and the Taliban were in a "family dispute" or a "children's spat" at home, breezily adding: "May the souls of all martyrs rejoice in God, especially our frontier guardsmen and the five or three of them, where this happened. But there is no talk of a military option!" He was referring to the border guardsmen killed most recently, though he wasn't sure of the number!

Another commander, Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards' aerospace division, blamed "Iran's enemies" for fanning "such incidents."

Image of Opium poppies growing in a field in Samogay, Afghanistan.

Opium poppies grow in a field in Samogay, Afghanistan.

Sgt Christopher Mccullough / ZUMA

Share of the goods

While war is never welcome, Tehran's diplomatic ineptitude in defending Iranian interests is singular. One legislator, Jalil Rahimi-Jahanabadi has asked on Twitter what Iran's "abject" and "deluded" approach to the Taliban had achieved so far: "security on the frontier? Our share of the Helmand? Trade and development deals? Safeguarding the lives of our dear guardsmen and people living on the frontier? Safeguarding national pride?"

The Revolutionary guards are happy to defend the national interest then, as long as it doesn't thwart theirs.

The Iranian Tasnim news agency, an unofficial mouthpiece of the Revolutionary guards, recently cited an unnamed security official as attributing the recent shootout to a bid to stop a drugs caravan entering Iran. As frontier guardsmen opened fire on the suspected traffickers, Tasnim reported, Taliban on the other side "who did not know what was going on" also began to shoot.

What this means is that Iran's border guards were killed because of a filthy trade, which some suspect involves elements in the Revolutionary guards. More than 80% of the world's illegal drugs are produced in Afghanistan and a good deal passes through Iran. The U.S. Treasury Department has in the past sanctioned particular Revolutionary guards commanders for suspected involvement in drug trafficking.

The Revolutionary guards are happy to defend the national interest then, as long as it doesn't thwart theirs.

Afraid of Kabul?

One former legislator involved in security affairs, Hishmatullah Falahatpisheh, says the Taliban have duly intimidated Iran's leadership, which he believes explains such "unseemly" actions as the hasty handover of the Afghan embassy in Tehran. He says Iran must stop the flow of Afghan drugs through its territory, which he claims were earning the Taliban and traffickers more than Iran's annual infrastructures budget. But who is listening to him among those who wield power in Iran?

Some analysts have attributed recent tensions to low-level Taliban acting as rogues, though it seems unlikely low-ranking fighters could have had armored vehicles sent to the frontier. The Revolutionary Guards have in turn shown in the past - notably on the frontier with Iraq - that they will not tolerate hostile or even suspected manoeuvrings near Iran, and will resort to preemptive bombardments if necessary.

Iran has also acted beyond its border, in Syria and Iraq, ostensibly to combat ISIS. So why is it mollycoddling the Taliban? Curiously, at the time of these incidents, the Revolutionary guards announced they were sending troops... to the frontier with Iraqi Kurdistan.

The appeasement is in part explained by some genuine sympathies for the Taliban felt at the highest echelons of Iran's leadership. A military analyst whose name we are withholding told Kayhan-London the Taliban would never act this way if they saw Iran's as a "straight-acting" government. But, if the regime is taking a cut of its drugs, the Taliban "have the upper hand," he says, as producer and supplier, and inevitably "impose their will."

The Revolutionary guards may really see all this as a trifle: why make a fuss when you're making a fortune? Let the end customers — the Europeans and the West — suffer the consequences.

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How Parenthood Reinvented My Sex Life — Confessions Of A Swinging Mom

Between breastfeeding, playdates, postpartum fatigue, birthday fatigues and the countless other aspects of mother- and fatherhood, a Cuban couple tries to find new ways to explore something that is often lost in the middle of the parenting storm: sex.

red tinted photo of feet on a bed

Parenting v. intimacy, a delicate balance

Silvana Heredia

HAVANA — It was Summer, 2015. Nine months later, our daughter would be born. It wasn't planned, but I was sure I wouldn't end my first pregnancy. I was 22 years old, had a degree, my dream job and my own house — something unthinkable at that age in Cuba — plus a three-year relationship, and the summer heat.

I remember those months as the most fun, crazy and experimental of my pre-motherhood life. It was the time of my first kiss with a girl, and our first threesome.

Every weekend, we went to the Cuban art factory and ended up at the CornerCafé until 7:00 a.m. That September morning, we were very drunk, and in that second-floor room of my house, it was unbearably hot. The sex was otherworldly. A few days later, the symptoms began.

She arrived when and how she wished. That's how rebellious she is.

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