Geopolitics

Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time

Iran's clerical Shiite regime has seemingly overturned its long-held hostility to the Taliban, and may be readying itself to welcome the 'enemies of America' as Kabul's new masters.

Afghan Taliban fighters in the Laghman Province celebrate a peace deal between US and Taliban
Hamed Mohammadi

-Analysis-

There can be no doubt the situation in Afghanistan is critical. As U.S. and allied troops depart, the Taliban are exploiting the Kabul government's weakness to capture districts and towns, especially in the north.

In some areas, conditions seem normal by day but as darkness falls, armed motorcades attack villages, patrols or army posts, firing on any Afghan citizen trying to resisit.

A UN report from May listed 50 of Afghanistan's 400 regions as being in Taliban hands. And that progression appears relentless, with eight districts falling in June in less than two days in the provinces of Takhar, Samangan and Balkh, and some fighting reaching the outskirts of cities like Mazar-i Sharif.

There have been reports of Afghan troops simply handing over their trucks to the Taliban, by some accounts as many as 700 trucks or lorries in recent weeks, in addition to armored vehicles and artillery equipment. All these will aid the Taliban in their war effort.

The head of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, says "there are secrets behind the fall of cities without any fighting, and circles inside the Afghan governments have a hand in their fall."

The Revolutionary Guards want the country turned into another quagmire for the United States.

U.S. security sources say the Taliban may take Kabul within six to 12 months after Western forces have fully withdrawn. Still, International Crisis Group analyst Andrew Watkins recently told the Wall Street Journal the Taliban were not invincible, and Kabul's fall is by no means a certainty. Other specialists have pointed out that the Taliban have been capturing rural terrain of little strategic worth, attributing their successes also to the uneven distribution of Afghan troops, mostly trained to defend the big cities and highways.

And then, there are accusations from Afghan politicians that certain foreign powers, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, were helping the insurgents.

Abdulsattar Husseini, a legislator, has accused the Iranian Revolutionary guards and Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency of helping the Taliban, saying arms have been smuggled in from Iran.

Ali Khamenei meeting with Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran — Iranian Supreme Leader'S Office/ ZUMA Wire

In the past 20 to 30 years, Afghanistan has, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, entered the Iranian regime's "resistance" map of regions where it sought to extend its ideological sway at the West's expense. The Revolutionary Guards have been biding their time ahead of a Western withdrawal.

Aware of the West's strategic and security interests in Afghanistan, and its rivalries with China and Russia, the Guards want the country turned into another quagmire for the United States, like Iraq. In fact, backing the Taliban and al-Qaeda could help the Iranian regime send its own militias into a lawless country, compensating for its weakened position in Syria and Iraq. These are used to extort concessions from Western powers, regardless of the cost to the long-suffering Afghans.

The Islamic Republic is not only inclined to see the Taliban take Kabul, but already busy whitewashing the terrorists at home, with one conservative daily in Tehran writing: "the Taliban today are not the Taliban who used to cut heads off."

"But after the United States toppled the Taliban in 2001, the Iranian Supreme Leader not only sheltered them but is now veering toward closer ties with them"

According to U.S. State Department documents, many Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders have been living in Iran in recent years. Cities like Mashhad, Qom and Tehran are in turn training bases for the Shia Fatemium militiamen fighting in Syria under the Quds Army, the Revolutionary guards' strike force in the Middle East. Dozens have returned to Iran as war winds down in Syria, ready to fight in Afghanistan instead, if not inside Iran. The Revolutionary guards would have no qualms about using them to crush domestic protests in Iran.

Some years ago, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, denounced the Taliban as sworn enemies of Shia Muslims, describing them as "hard-hearted," criminal and "creatures' of the United States. But after the United States toppled them in 2001, he not only sheltered them but is now veering Iranian foreign policy toward closer ties with them. And it is the task of various figures in Tehran to start rehabilitating the terrorists. The legislator Ahmad Naderi has called the Taliban "one of the region's essential movements," with whom "we have shared enemies." Ali Shamkhani, a former defense minister, now a senior security official, has praised their leaders for their resolve in fighting the Americans.

Iran's ambassador in Kabul, Bahador Aminian, calls the "resistance" in Afghanistan part of an "Islamic awakening" influenced by the ideas of Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ruhollah Khomeini. The fact is the regime and the Revolutionary guards have extended their tentacles, and their money, into both the Afghan government and the Taliban.

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Society

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



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