London, 23 May – The killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansur in a US drone strike at the weekend has attracted attention to Iran’s alliance with the Afghan Taliban.
Mansur and his driver were killed on the main highway between Iran and Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s south-western province and it is believed that Mansur had just returned from Iran when the drone strike hit.
This was confirmed by an immigration official in the border town of Taftan; according to him, Mansur was carrying euros which he exchanged for Pakistani rupees. However, the Iranian foreign ministry denied that Mansur entered Pakistan through the Iran border.
The Guardian states that although Pakistan is usually associated with support for the Taliban, Iran also provides weapons, cash and sanctuary to them. The Shia Iranian government may have ideological differences with the Sunni group but they co-operate against enemies and to achieve common interests.
Mansur’s purpose in Iran is unknown but it is believed that he may have stayed with the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) or with Afghans living in eastern Iran.
Michael Semple, a regional specialist, believes that Mansur’s travels in Iran would have caused outrage amongst the Taliban.
An Afghan source said that deepening cooperation between Iran and the Taliban appeared to be associated with the threat presented by ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan.
The source said: “The emergence of ISIS is the main reason [for their cooperation]. But Iran has stakes in Afghanistan, and if it can gain some influence over the Taliban, why wouldn’t it?”
He said that Tehran wants to prevent the Taliban from allying with Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif denounced the US drone strikes, believing it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
According to the Pakistan media there was also a passenger called Wali Muhammad whose ID was found in the wreckage of the drone strike.
However, Afghan sources report that this was a known alias of Mansur’s and the photo on the passport resembles him. Hispassport showed immigration stamps which place him in Iran in late March, returning to Pakistan on 21 May.
A Pakistani foreign office statement read: “A person named Wali Muhammad, son of Shah Muhammad, carrying a Pakistani passport and I.D. card, entered Pakistan from [Iran through the] Taftan border. His passport bore a valid Iranian visa”.
Pakistani officials are investigating the passport and identity of the driver and passenger; according to reports by Pakistan’s ARY News TV the driver was identified as Mohammed Azam, a taxi driver.
According to Gandhara, the US were tipped off about Mansur’s presence by Pakistan’s Security Service. The Service often protects Taliban forces in order to promote Pakistan’s interests within other Middle Eastern countries but this trade was seen as necessary to alleviate other drone strikes in the area.
Their source said: “Pakistani intelligence seems to have delivered this to the U.S. in exchange for easing up on F-16s [fighter aircrafts], other aid, and relieving the overall pressure from Washington”.
Earlier this month, the US Senate described Pakistan as a ‘frenemy’ and blocked a $700 million deal by Lockheed Martin to sell eight F-16 fighter jets and other military weapons to Pakistan.
Then, the House of Representatives passed a defence budget which gave aid of $450 million to Islamabad to crack down on the Haqqani wing of the Taliban.