Pass the popcorn: Are the Taliban too radical for ... Iran?

AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi

Can we root for both sides to lose? Taliban radicals have begun stoning Iranian diplomatic missions, mainly over reports of tortured Afghan refugees in Iran. The Iranians have begun threatening the Taliban to put a stop to it, or else:

Iran on Tuesday summoned Afghanistan’s envoy in Tehran over attacks the previous day on Iranian diplomatic missions in the neighboring country, state media in Iran reported.

According to the reports, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Afghan chargé d’affaires in protest over Monday’s attacks on the Iranian Embassy in Kabul and the Iranian Consulate in Herat, where protests had turned aggressive. In Herat, angry Afghan protesters pelted the consulate with rocks.

The ministry demanded that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers provide the missions with full security and said they stopped working until further notice. On Monday, ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said more needed to be done by the Taliban to ensure security to Iranian missions.

The Iranians aren’t the only radicals in the region that may be less inclined to cheer the American exit from Afghanistan these days. Apparently the Pakistanis aren’t thrilled with their old clients as their new neighbors either. The Taliban have been reluctant to constrain their allies in attacking across the border, especially the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). That group wants a Taliban-esque government in Islamabad and is raising money in Afghanistan to wage its jihad. Pakistan was first to recognize the Taliban’s legitimacy in Kabul last year, but the economic and political ties the Taliban expected have been slow coming — and from China as well, for much the same reasons. No one trusts the Taliban, nor should they.

The Iranians’ radical clique of mullahs might have been an exception, or at least one would think. Structurally, Iran’s government is the closest parallel to the Taliban model in the region. However, a series of videos purporting to show Iranian torture of Afghans has set the mobs on fire, even as the Iranians insist they are fake:

On Tuesday around 200 Afghans gathered at a square in central Kabul, carrying posters reading “Iran should stop its cruelties” and “We want justice”.

Public demonstrations have been banned by the Taliban, but they allowed it to proceed with armed guards watching.

“The Iranian security forces and even common people there have been treating us badly these days,” said protester Manzoor Ahmad Farooqi, recently returned from Iran.

“When their police see us they pin us to the ground and beat us.”

Tuesday’s protest came after videos circulated at the weekend purporting to show Iranian border guards and civilians beating Afghans, although it was unclear when and where the images were filmed.

Iranian officials have dismissed the videos as “baseless and invalid”.

For now the consulates have reopened, but one has to wonder for how long. The Taliban’s “exception” for protests in this instance might be an indicator of how much they need to redirect popular resentment over their oppressive policies toward another target. The Americans aren’t around any longer, and it might be too dangerous to set up the Pakistanis as the regime’s bete noire. They can’t use China for obvious reasons — they need to access China’s economic power — but the Iranians make for a pretty good foil if needed.

Let’s pop some popcorn and hope that these two regimes remain at loggerheads. They certainly deserve each other as neighbors.

And, oh yeah: how many Americans remain abandoned in Afghanistan by Joe Biden? Does anyone know? Is anyone still asking?