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Taliban And Iran: The Impossible Alliance May Already Be Crumbling

After the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban rulers retook control of Afghanistan, there were initial, friendly signals exchanged with Iran's Shia regime. But a recent border skirmish recalls tensions from the 1990s, when Iran massed troops on the Afghan frontier.

Photo of Taliban troops during a military operation in Kandahar

Taliban troops during a military operation in Kandahar

The clashes reported this week from the border between Iran and Afghanistan were perhaps inevitable.

There are so far scant details on what triggered the flare up on Wednesday between Iranian border forces and Taliban fighters, near the district of Hirmand in Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province. Still, footage posted on social media indicated the exchange of fire was fairly intense, with troops on both sides using both light and heavy weaponry.

The border between the two states remained shut amid reports of continuing clashes, though neither Kabul or Tehran authorities have commented on the incident.

Border clashes

According to certain sources, it began with Taliban fighters firing onto Iranian frontier stations from their positions in the Kang district in the province of Nimruz. Other sources claim the Taliban have taken control of several Iranian border posts, while the Amaj publication states that people have fled those areas.

The website Khabar Online, believed to be close to the former parliamentary speaker and disqualified presidential aspirant Ali Larijani, also reported Iranian positions falling into Taliban hands, before removing its report.

Different from the Taliban who 'chopped heads off'.

It was less than five months ago, in July, that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he hoped "we shall have good relations with the Islamic Republic." And so far, the Islamic Republic of Iran has enjoyed warm relations with the Taliban.

Iran's previous foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had hosted them in Tehran before they took power. Once the Taliban had conquered Kabul, the conservative Tehran newspaper Kayhan insisted this lot differed "from the Taliban we knew, who chopped heads off."

Photo of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press briefing in Kabul

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press briefing in Kabul

Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua/ZUMA

Afghanistan's "new generation"

Iran's ambassador in Kabul, Bahadur Aminian, met with the Taliban acting Information and Culture minister in late October, and the two sides agreed they would work together to consolidate cultural ties, boost tourism and revive the country's "cultural patrimony."

In Tehran, the legislator Ahmad Naderi told the Tehran Times last January that the Taliban were an "authentic" regional resistance force Iran should befriend, and the cruelties associated with them — including against Afghanistan's Shias — were the work of their "first generation," and the "new generation is different." Another Taliban apologists is the former defense minister, Ali Shamkhani, now an adviser on defense issues to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The Fars news agency, which is close to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, has meanwhile whitewashed the Taliban altogether by reporting attacks on "Iranian farmers" by unspecified armed men coming from "areas where bandits and traffickers were active."

The Iranian foreign ministry has said the "border disagreement" was resolved on December 1, with the efforts of "border guardsmen on both sides," with no mention of any Taliban involved.

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