Taliban takeover is a boon for cash-strapped Iran

Tehran gets dollars from new oil sales to Afghanistan, while the Taliban get fuel for the ailing Afghan economy

Iran this week restarted fuel exports to Afghanistan that had been disrupted by fighting between the Taliban and forces under the now deposed Afghan government, traders in Tehran and former U.S. officials say, with the Taliban now providing critical dollars to the sanctions-crushed Iranian economy from its lucrative narcotics operations.

The burgeoning trade relationship between Tehran and the Taliban threatens to undermine key U.S. pressure campaigns against both.

Iran has been cut off from the global market for the greenback by U.S. sanctions, and the Taliban’s willingness to trade with their neighbor gives Iran rare access to U.S. dollars it needs to import essential goods and bolster its depreciated currency.

Meanwhile, the arrangement enables the Taliban, who are also cut off from trade and finance by international sanctions, to purchase basic commodities vital to keeping the ailing Afghan economy running.

Iranian traders, who had been selling to Afghan businessmen under the supervision of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, stopped sending refined petroleum to their Eastern neighbor this summer after fighting escalated between the Afghan national army and the Taliban.

After the conflict largely ended with the hard-line Islamist faction taking control of Kabul last week, the Taliban permitted the cross-border trade in petroleum products to resume. It has now returned to levels seen earlier in the year, to about $5 million a day, traders and officials say. With the Taliban desperate for oil and short on other trading partners—and Iran in need of cash—trade is expected swiftly to rise.

When Kabul fell to the Taliban, the prevailing opinion in the media was Iran feared what would come next. “Taliban Surge Will Force Iran to Forge a New Defense Strategy,” reported Haaretz on August 13. “Iran Braces for Life Next Door to the Taliban Once Again,” Bloomberg headlined on August 19. Germany’s Deutsche Welle wrote, “Afghanistan: Taliban Offensive Puts Iran in a Bind.” These three headlines were representative of the broad consensus that while Iran might be happy America is gone from Afghanistan, it was terrified of the Taliban.

That narrative is false.

The Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan will not counter Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. In fact, Iran not only planned for the eventual exit of the United States from Afghanistan, but also worked with the Taliban for almost a decade to bring it about. The forces of radical Islam, led by Iran, are set to receive a massive boost, economically, militarily and ideologically, from the Taliban takeover.