Border clashes between Iranian and Taliban forces along the Afghanistan-Iran border have reportedly left a Taliban soldier dead and another wounded, according to the group.
Mawlawi Mohammad Ebrahim Hewad, the Taliban’s border commander in Afghanistan’s “Nimroz” province, claimed that the clash had taken place within the “Kong” district, according to Afghanistan’s TOLOnews channel. Hewad claimed that Iranian soldiers had initiated the fight; however, Iran’s state-run IRNA news channel, which also reported on the incident, insisted that the Taliban had fired the first shots. The IRNA claimed that Taliban soldiers had entered Hirmand, a disputed territory along the Iran-Afghanistan border that is presently controlled by Iran, and attempted to raise the group’s black-and-white flag. Although the outlet noted that a wall separated the Taliban-claimed territory from the normal positions of Iranian border troops, the news organization claimed that the wall had been constructed only to prevent smuggling and should not be understood as Iran’s demarcation of its border.
“With a wrong understanding of the border, Taliban forces imagine the wall is the border between Iran and Afghanistan,” Iran’s private but state-aligned Tasnim news agency wrote of the incident. “It isn’t. Iranian border officials have tried to make them understand this for the past few months.”
Although relations between Iran and the Taliban have largely been peaceful since the group’s successful conquest of Afghanistan in August 2021, the two sides have publicly disagreed about the correct position of the border, as well as other related issues including water rights along the Helmand River. The two sides exchanged fire in December, although there were no casualties from the incident and it was later described as a “misunderstanding” by both governments.
Iran fiercely opposed the Taliban during the group’s first period of rule over Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The clerical government of Iran, which maintains an explicitly Shia character, has long regarded itself as the protector of Afghanistan’s predominantly-Shia Hazara ethnic group, which faced fierce persecution under the first Taliban regime. In 1998, after the Taliban conquered the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, it killed ten Iranian diplomats and a journalist in the city’s Iranian consulate, nearly leading to an Iranian military intervention. Although Tehran ultimately opted not to invade, it continued to support the anti-Taliban “Northern Alliance” until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, and even cooperated with the United States during the invasion.
Following the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan, both Iranian and Taliban leaders committed to better relations with each other, but Tehran has yet to recognize the group as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.