Iran seeks upper hand in the new Afghanistan

As US troops quickly withdraw after 20 years of war in Afghanistan, regional powers are moving to fill the emerging power vacuum in a country long bedeviled by lethal internal rivalries.

Iran, the top trading partner of Afghanistan and an influential neighbor with high stakes in its stability, has engaged both the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in recent months.

This comes even though many Iranians have decried their government’s overtures to the Taliban as treacherous considering the group’s track record of sponsoring violence and terrorism including in Iran.

The US troop withdrawal has already created massive reverberations across Afghanistan. The Taliban have recently claimed to have conquered 85% of the country and continue to make advances into government-held territories.

Other sources paint a slightly different picture of the Taliban’s ascendency. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a fine-tuned map updated daily, has estimated the Taliban now control 223 districts representing 54.7% of the country while government-controlled areas amount to a mere 17.9%.