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Saturday, November 26, 2022

As Iran-Taliban tensions rise, Afghan expatriates in Tinderbox

TEHRAN, Iran ( Associated Press) — After Taliban members killed her active husband, she offered Zahra Hosseini a deal: Marry one of us, and you’ll be safe.

31-year-old Hussaini decided to run away. She and her two young children trekked through the chaotic flatlands on foot, on motorcycles and trucks until they reached Iran.

As Afghanistan plunged into economic crisis after the United States withdrew troops and the Taliban seized power, the 960-kilometre (572-mile) long border with Iran became a lifeline for Afghans who lost money and work. In the desperate search of the smugglers piled up in the pickup.

But in recent weeks the desert crossing, a dangerous corner of the world, has become a growing source of tension as an estimated 5,000 Afghans cross it every day and neighbors – former enemies who trade fuel, share water and have an atrocious history – navigate a fast-charged relationship.

In the past weeks, there have been clashes between the Taliban and Iranian border guards. Afghans rallied against Iran in three cities. Protesters pelted stones and set fire to Iranian consulate, The fatal incident of an Afghan expatriate allegedly stabbing Iran’s holiest pilgrimage site shook the entire nation.

Political analysts say that even if the two countries do not want an escalation, the prolonged smoldering hostilities run the risk of spiraling out of control.

“You have one of the worst refugee crises in the world, which is moving along with daily motion and historical animosity,” said Andrew Watkins, senior Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace. “There will be an earthquake.”

Risks are personal to Afghans Like Hussaini is slipping across the border. Since the Taliban takeover, Iran has increased its deportations of Afghan migrants, according to the United Nations Migration Agency, with warnings that its sanctions-hit economy cannot handle the influx.

Ashley Carl, deputy chief of the agency’s Afghanistan mission, said that in the first three months of this year, deportations to Iran increased by 60% each month. He said many of the 251,000 people who returned from Iran this year suffered the wounds and scars of the arduous journey, surviving car accidents, gunfire and other troubles.

Roshangol Hakimi, 35, who fled Iran after the Taliban takeover, said smugglers held her and her 9-year-old daughter hostage for a week until her relatives paid a ransom.

“They fed us polluted water and hard, stale bread,” she said. “We were dying.”

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The lucky ones descend into Tehran’s rumble, squeezing into the damp and crowded alleyway. Iran estimates that at least one million Afghans have taken refuge in the country in the past eight months.

Like many others, Hussaini lives in a legal limbo, vulnerable to persecution and exploitation. At the tailor’s shop, his owner refused to pay him his salary. The landlord threatened to kick him out. She barely manages to raise enough cash to feed her children.

“We have nothing and nowhere to go,” she said from a cramped room in southern Tehran, furnished with just a donated gas heater, chairs and some velor blankets.

As more Afghans arrive, it becomes harder to help them. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatebzadeh last month expressed regret that “the waves of displaced Afghans cannot continue to Iran” because Iran’s “capabilities are limited.” Iran’s youth unemployment is over 23%. Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost less than 50% of its value since 2018.

Tehran-based political analyst Ri Ghobishavi said of the escalating conflict between Afghans and Iranians, “the biggest challenge is that Iran is unprepared for the new status of refugees.”

Iran becomes more concerned as a string of bloody attacks The targeting of the country’s minority Hazara Shiites in Afghanistan makes it clear that the extremist threat continues to grow despite the Taliban’s promise of security.

Abbas Husseini, a prominent Afghan journalist in Tehran, described the growing paranoia in Iran, saying, “There are reports that some extremists are easily entering Iran with refugees.”

Last month, Iran’s holiest Shiite shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad turned into the scene of a massacre when an attacker stabbed three clerics., killing two – a rare act of violence on campus. The attacker was identified in the media as an Afghan national of Uzbek ethnicity.

In the days that followed, Iranian social media was flooded with videos agitating against Afghan refugees. Impossible to substantiate, the grainy clip – footage of Iranians insulting and beating up Afghans – has been dismissed as misleading in Iran, but continues to make headlines in Afghanistan, fueling public fury.

Protesters pelted stones at the Iranian consulate in the western city of Herat and protested at the Iranian embassy in Kabul. “Stop killing Afghans,” pleaded with protesters in the Afghan capital. “Death to Iran,” the slogan of the crowd in Herat and southeastern Khost province. Iran has suspended all its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan for 10 days.

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Even as the gates to its consulate were smoldering, Iran’s special envoy for Afghanistan turned away. Hassan Kazemi Komi attributed the escalating tensions to an obscure “enemy” who was trying to destroy the nations’ ties. Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaki expressed his concern to the Iranian ambassador.

“The mistreatment of Afghan refugees in Iran adversely affects relations between the two countries … allowing opponents to plot,” Muttaki was quoted as saying.

His careful tone reflects a troubled history.

In 1998, Iran nearly went to war against the Taliban after 10 of its diplomats were killed in an attack on the Taliban consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. But after the US-led invasion, Tehran’s Shia leaders became wary of the US military presence at their doorstep and took a more pragmatic approach towards the Sunni terrorist group.

Now, analysts say, the two countries, cut off from the global banking system and starved for cash, have become dependent on each other. Neither wants to see the tension escalate further.

“Through neighbours, Iran can bust sanctions, exchange currency, barter and keep its economy alive,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme. can keep.”

But last week when Taliban guards tried to build a new road across the border, neighbors almost got burned. Iranian guards went on high alert. Important crossings closed.

Aware of the stakes, the countries are firmly pursuing diplomacy. Last week, Khatibzadeh promised that Tehran would recognize Taliban diplomats for the first time to help process mountains of consular matters. Taliban officials visited the capital to discuss Iran’s treatment of Afghan refugees.

Many of them are refugees fleeing repression in Afghanistan and lack Sheltering humble dreams: Scrap as construction workers, factory workers and farmhands in Iran.

Others, such as Hakimi’s 9-year-old daughter Yasmin, hope to continue in Europe. She fantasizes about Germany. He said the father of a police officer killed by the Taliban in Logar province told him about the importance of education.

“We don’t want a bad future,” Yasmin said from her dilapidated Tehran apartment. “We want to be as literate as our fathers.”

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Debre reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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