Iran Not Interested In Reviving Anti-Taliban Northern Alliance

Iran differs on Afghanistan

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Iran has hinted it may not be on the same page as India on Afghanistan.

The country’s deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Ali Fathollahi, who is here on a three-day visit, had extensive talks with the Indian foreign office on the Afghan situation and claimed that New Delhi and Tehran “enjoy a close viewpoint on Afghanistan”.

But Iran does not share India’s concern that the Pakistani army and ISI might foist themselves on Afghanistan once the international security forces leave the region by 2014. Unlike New Delhi, Tehran wants the forces to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Fathollahi raised questions about the trove of US military documents released on the website WikiLeaks last month that seemed to prove beyond doubt the ISI’s support to the Taliban.

“We have suspicion on these documents because the issues raised in these documents are not newborns…. We believe raising these issues at this very specific time, we believe special objectives and goals are being followed in order to create an atmosphere,” the Iran minister said of the 90,000 pages of documents.

Iran is not enthusiastic either about efforts to revive the Northern Alliance to combat the Taliban. Along with India and Russia, Iran had in the late 1990s supported the grouping of anti-Taliban warlords.

Tehran however said it sees India as a key player in Afghanistan and invited New Delhi for trilateral meetings to discuss the situation in the war-torn country. Iran plans to host talks on Afghanistan with neighbouring countries in the near future and has already put in place trilateral forums with Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Fathollahi proposed an Iran-India-Afghanistan trilateral forum to his Indian counterparts. However, the Iranian foreign minister said his government considered Pakistan an integral constituent of any regional strategy, including on Afghanistan, and has always believed in co-operating with Islamabad.

The minister is visiting India to discuss how the two countries can take their bilateral engagement to the status of a “strategic dialogue”. The visit has come within a month of the India-Iran joint commission meetings, which suggests the two countries are making efforts to rebuild their traditional close ties which had seen a downturn in recent years.

Fathollahi held talks with external affairs minister S.M. Krishna and his deputy Preneet Kaur. Apart from Afghanistan, the two sides also discussed the expansion of Chabahar port, which will allow Indian goods access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. Iran has unveiled an ambitious plan to expand the port and is looking for investments. Fathollahi said the port will deepen India’s outreach both to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The minister said the US has been asking countries to downgrade their ties with Tehran in every sphere but there would be no drastic impact on economic ties between Iran and Asian countries, including India.