Tensions sparked the world as the US military assassinated the second most powerful Iranian, General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Forces.
Soleimani was the architect of the pro-Iranian militiamen and a feared enemy of the ISIS group, the United States’ and Saudi Arabia’s interest in the Middle East thus considered with high regard by a number of Iranians.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took Twitter on the day of Soleimani’s funeral: “Have you [President Trump] seen such a sea of humanity in your life? … Do you still think you can break the will of a great nation and its people?” Undoubtedly, Iran is going to retaliate, the means of which will be far dangerous to the region than to the United States itself.
The Revolutionary Guards Major General Hossein Salami vowed to revenge the death of Soleimani by putting “an end to the US presence in the Region.”
With Iran’s military and economic capabilities into account, Iran’s direct war with the US is far-fetched; however, as far as their “strategic revenge” is concerned, it will destabilize Afghanistan because its primary target will be the US presence in the region, namely in the Middle East and Afghanistan which threatens the US-Taliban peace deal at its crucial stage.
Iran’s “dirty work will only harm the Afghanistan peace process”, Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, stated at a press conference.
“Soleimani was an asset for Iran as well as a threat to the region. He was a master of proxy wars, credited with the creation of a number of regional militant groups. His death will increase tension in the region. If the Afghan government fails to maintain a neutral position, the current circumstances will destabilize Afghanistan even further,” Rahmatullah Nabil, former head of Afghanistan’s NDS, warned.
In a statement from President Ghani’s office, Afghanistan promised to remain neutral and urged the de-escalation among the Islamic Republic of Iran, our “big neighbor, with whom we share a common language,” and the United States, “Afghanistan’s strategic and fundamental partner”.
So far, Iran is reluctant to respond regarding this matter while the US accuses Iran of “undermining” the Afghan Peace Process.
Iran is going for asymmetric warfare as its retaliatory response to revenge for the assassination of Soleimani. In doing so, Iran’s elemental proxy is the Taliban despite the fact that Suhail Shaheen, Spokesperson of the Taliban, has dismissed “negative impacts” of US-Iran tensions on the peace process because “the (US-Taliban) peace agreement is finalized and only remains to be signed.”
Historically, Iran has kept close and behind the curtain ties with the Taliban through logistic and financial support to this group. Iran can attempt to sabotage the US-Taliban peace deal.
Yousafzai, a journalist familiar with the US-Taliban peace negotiations, reports of a type of relationship that is “improved well beyond diplomatic niceties” among the Taliban and Iran. Iran is a host to millions of Afghan youths who are recruited to the Fatemiyoun group, an Iranian-sponsored Shia militia group. The affiliation of Fatemiyoun with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of Soleimani is a matter of attention, this group can anytime become a big threat to the US and its interests in Afghanistan.
The US wants to end the Afghan conflict with dignity and legitimacy; however, as it is, their legitimacy will be the main target for Iran as they have vowed to revenge strategically. Iran might attempt to thwart peace deal through affiliating other groups in Afghanistan into her proxies, including the Tora Bora and the Mullah Dadullah Group.
Asymmetric warfare would mean that Iran will not only increase financing the Taliban, Fatemiyoun and other extremist groups but will also provide them highly enhanced and sophisticated means of weaponry to fight with unconventional war tactics, particularly guerrilla attacks, suicide bombs to which the most vulnerable will be Afghan people. “Iran can increase financial support to the Taliban and even give them advanced weapons, which will dramatically alter the face of the Afghan battlefield,” Yousufzai noted.
One of the prominent uniting motives between Iran and the Taliban can be the common goal and common enemy; the US and ending its presence in the region.
What can be done?
The Afghan government officially announced its neutrality in the US-Iran tensions. However, there were two types of responses to Sloeimani’s assassination by the Afghan politicians. While one group appreciated the neutrality of the state in this matter, the other condemned the action at the strongest terms possible.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, “strongly condemned the US airstrike on the Baghdad airfield which killed Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is contrary to international principles and norms.” The position of the State of Afghanistan is official at the end of the day whereas this position cannot be a guarantee an Afghan Peace Process free of Iran’s negative influence.
Afghanistan is at a crucial phase of transition; the Afghan Peace Process is the only hope of ending the “endless” Afghan conflict. The US and NATO must take all measures needed to ensure the success of this process. Otherwise, it is likely that Afghanistan will go to another deadly conflict for years to come.
For the success of the Afghan Peace Process, the US has to come to an agreement with the Taliban as soon as possible to allow the Intra-Afghan dialogue. While Iran is using a common goal as leverage, the US must assure the Taliban of a political settlement unless contrary to the democratic values and protection of human rights.
The US can also promise to compensate Iran’s positive role in the Afghan Peace Process by lifting economic sanctions imposed on this country, either temporarily or permanently.