By Safa Haeri, IPS Editor


The official Announcement by the Taleban that the 10 Iranian diplomats and one journalist had been killed in Mazare Sharif, when the so-called "students in Islamic theology" captured the city almost a month ago, has confronted Iran with a serious dilemma.

A senior Taleban spokesman confirmed Thursday that the bodies of nine of the eleven Iranians, who went missing since the very day the Taleban entered Mazare Sharif, have been found in a remote cemetery.

Even though he immediately reiterated that the killing did took place without the knowledge of the Taleban leadership and promised that the culprits will be found and punished, Mr. Motewakil did not, however, offer any apology to the Iranians.

There is no doubt that the Iranian clerical rulers knew from the outset that the men had been killed by the Taleban and if they kept saying that they were alive, it was because they were waiting for the Taleban to acknowledge it officially.

The mishandling of the Afghan crisis by the Iranian officials became more blatant from the very day the Taleban captured the northern city of Mazare Sharif that had served for more than 2 years as the virtual capital of the disparate, anti-Taleban forces.

One reason for this huge diplomatic debacle Iran suffered in Afghanistan was that diplomats and experts had never addressed it. The decisions were taken by some ignorant mollahs led by the ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i - the lame-duck leader of the Islamic Republic via some of his own proteges. Chief among them was Mr Alaiddin Broujerdi, the man the Taleban accuses, with some reasons though, for the present conflict between Tehran in the one hand, Kabul and Islamabad on the other.

The question Tehran faces now is that it has few choices, all bad ones, unless the Pakistani took the advantage to diffuse a situation that could easily degenerate into a major regional war.

The Taleban must offer official excuses to the Iranians, even if they insist that the Iranian Journalist and Diplomats were killed by irresponsible elements. If they do this, and also release the 45 to 50 Iranians they are holding prisoner, then they put the ball in the Iranians court and offer them an "honorable way out".

In this case, Iran for sure will continue its threats and protests for some time until the dust settles down and other regional and Western nations, including Saudi Arabia, the Taleban master banker and possibly the European Union starts mediating.

Hours before the Taleban's official announcement, Tehran had stepped up its "war of words" against the Taleban and escalated its confrontation with Pakistan, confirming the regime's perplexity and absence of direction.

Hojatoleslam Dorri Najafabadi, the information (Intelligence) Minister said Pakistani intelligence officers led the Taleban to the Iranian consulate in Mazare Sharif.

The Iranian regular Armed Forces announced it was going to organize large scale maneuvers near Afghan borders, where the Revolutionary Guards had staged a similar maneuver a week ago, pouring in 70 000 guards and basij.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry once again warned the Taleban that they will be responsible for the fate of the missing Iranians and Iran will take whatever action it considers necessary for the safeguard of its borders and the security of its citizens.

Quoting an identified "informed source" that every one understood could not be but Mr. Broujerdi, the Iranian Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tehran Radio said the Taleban had captured the Iranian diplomats the very day they entered Mazare Sharif and took them to an unknown destination.

Tehran will also ponder several military options. These include an all-out attack on the Taleban, with the hope of flushing them out of Afghanistan. They might also consider creating a security zone by occupying some Afghan territory, which would include Herat, like the one Israel has created in Lebanon. Alternatively they might be content with a punctual bombing of Kabul, Qandehar or other major Taleban stronghold.

An all-out Iranian war is pointless because it serves no purpose. Besides, such an action bears the great risk and danger to see Pakistan rushing to the help of their Taleban protege, thus expanding the conflict.

Considering Pakistan's military might, the Saudi and Emirate money, and the US support on the one hand, the collapsing Iranian economy, an explosive social climate and international isolation on the other, Iran will soon find itself in a nightmare, reminder of the devastating and bloody war with Iraq.

Aerial attack of Kabul or other major cities controlled by the Taleban not only is also futile, but it bears the risk of seeing the Taleban air force bombing some major Iranian city. Particular targets could be the holy Mash-had and destroying the golden shrine of Imam Reza, one of the pilgrimage destinations of the Shiites which the Afghans hate above all. 

ENDS 1199801

Editor-in-Chief:  Safa Haeri
Tel: +33 1 43805838
Fax: +33 1 43805825
e-mail: safa@iran-press-service.com

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