How Iran Found Its Feet in Afghanistan

Tehran Learns to Talk to the Taliban

Iranian revolutionary guards on the border with Afghanistan, September 1998 Stringer / REUTERS

As of this December, 40 years will have passed since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan—a period that coincides with virtually the entire lifespan of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Throughout those four decades, Tehran has struggled to protect and project its interests within the borders of its tumultuous eastern neighbor. Iran’s activities in Afghanistan have not drawn the outside attention that its operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf attract. But Afghanistan remains an important and often difficult arena of Iranian foreign policy, a country where Tehran’s decision-makers are slowly righting the course after decades of falling short. 

Iran’s interests in Afghanistan are in some respects parochial. Iran has traditionally focused its efforts on the empowerment of Persian speakers in the country and the protection of Afghan Shiites—one-fifth of Afghans are Shiite—who in recent years have been subject to horrific attacks by Sunni

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