Iran and Afghanistan are two of the four neighbours Pakistan share her borders with. Both these countries have played a significant role in putting Pakistan into the limelight for number of reasons. While, the not so recent Afghan-led peace talks has again heightened the curiosity and brought South Asian region into the forefront. As number of states are playing instrumental role in the execution of peace process and so do Iran. It is observed that Iran has a due share in the internal affairs of Afghanistan due to shared history and Shiite presence in different parts of the region. And it is no harm in saying that Iran is among one of the important countries that has the potential to play a significant role in bringing peace in the region. So, to analyse the role of Iran in Afghanistan and the peace process, it is imperative to dwell in to the course of actions the former has taken at times of Soviet’s invasion of 1979 as well as Afghanistan’s occupation. Upon assessment, it is noticed that both the states have shared stretched and intricate relationship throughout history.

Soviet’s invasion in 1979 coincided with the U.S. embassy hostage crises when Ayatollah Khomeini was in power in Iran. And that initially Iran was against the Soviet’s invasion but due to the isolation Iran faced after the hostage crisis urged Iran to not to antagonise Soviet Union openly and in turn, she titled towards Soviet Union to counter U.S. influence with Arab Afghan Mujahedeen. After years of war and rivalry, Taliban’s who were in power started misusing it and began to target Rabbani’s government, Iranian elites, kept hostages and stormed Iranian consulate in Afghanistan. Both the parties were at the brink of war, but war was averted when Taliban after facing a serious threat from Iran agreed to what Iranians demanded. And in retaliation to the previous hostilities, Iran supported U.S. (controversial ally) in the war on terror in 2001 and gave adequate information during Operation Enduring Freedom about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s forces present in the region.

In the meanwhile, the complexity and duality of Iranian ties with Afghanistan stems from when Iran was maintaining healthy terms with Kabul because of the economic projects and Shiites living in the region as minority. And simultaneously, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Forces who were in support of Afghan Taliban’s in the insurgency by providing them weaponry and explosives. This dual partnership of Iran somehow proved harmful for the U.S. interests in the long run and the U.S. led coalitions in Afghanistan. However, there follows a logical reasoning behind Iran’s support towards Taliban forces. As these belligerents having much power pose a threat to Iran’s national security by sharing borders with each other. And the instability in one state will produce domino effect in the other and that the economic well-being will also be affected.

This is what is seen in the Afghan-led peace process where it is also speculated that Iran who is not opposing the peace process due to its number of interests in the region, rather seeks to direct it in a way that serves her own interests. The interests of Iran are several such as the to curb the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan, to establish ground links with China, Russia and Central Asian Republics (CARs) for stability and standing in South Asia, to retain the capability to weaken stability in Afghanistan in reaction to Western presence on her nuclear program and against U.S. for withdrawing from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to counter U.S. military objectives, to build Chabahar port which will bypass Pakistan and her trade routes, and most of all, to secure Shia community and to make them able to participate in the political activities in Afghanistan and so many others. However, regardless of her numerous interests, Iran’s role in the peace process is vital. And for that purpose, Iran has been supporting rather initiating a peace process and has had several direct talks with the Taliban in Tehran. It is noteworthy that Iran maintains strong hold in the region and the peace talks will be incomplete if Iran is omitted from them.

After looking in to detail at the intricacy between Iran and Afghanistan. It is anticipated for Pakistan to check what policy options she is left with. And for that purpose, the foremost recommendation is to revive the peace talks and to play a smart and active role in resolving the issues between Iran and Afghanistan. As at this point in time, instability in any of the state is not affordable especially for Pakistan. As Pakistan has already paid a heavy sum in the name of war on terror. And keeping in mind all the concerns, Pakistan must also take notice of her interests and to be a proactive diplomatic player at regional level so as to counter the anti-Pakistan propaganda prevalent especially in Afghanistan. And to maintain healthy relations with Iran as she is central to Pakistan’s regional security approach and is therefore a major influencer in Afghanistan as well which will eventually be helpful for the execution of Afghan peace process. Moreover, other soft measures that Pakistan must encourage include military diplomacy, public diplomacy, scholarships being provided to the students and to provide the adequate infrastructure in the war affected areas as a goodwill gesture, the flow of different engagements at different levels, and to secure borders(fencing). Most importantly good governance is the primary policy option for Pakistan and to refrain herself from further blame game as it will only worsen the situation. And to realise the bad influence of the external influencers in the internal matters of not only Pakistan but inside her regional counterparts as well.