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The Taliban's rise to power an unknown for Iran and Turkey

The potential flood of refugees is something both countries want to avoid at all costs.
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PHOTO/AP  -   File photo, Taliban fighters in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan.

The speed with which the Taliban have risen to power in Afghanistan is one of the most worrying factors in the world. Although the decisions taken by US President Joe Biden could have led to a scenario like the one we are currently experiencing, few could have imagined a diplomatic disaster of this magnitude. The speed with which they have managed to take control of the Afghan capital has caught many countries off guard, such as their neighbours Iran and Turkey, which on the one hand see an opportunity for rapprochement, but on the other the threat of a significant wave of refugees seeking asylum in their territory.

In the still pandemic context, both Turkey and Iran are not in favour of opening their doors to the arrival of people seeking to flee Afghanistan. Indeed, they are likely to go to great lengths to reinforce their borders to prevent a massive illegal influx. What is clear to many analysts is that the decisions taken by Ankara and Tehran will be conditioned by the Taliban's stance on their relations with other countries. They could opt for a more moderate stance, conducive to international cooperation, or return to the rampant extremism that resulted in their overthrow after the 9/11 attacks.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - El presidente turco Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Asli Aydintasbas, a researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told AFP that "the situation poses a huge risk for Turkey (...) Iran also stands to lose if the Taliban return to their old ways and provide a safe haven" in reference to Islamist extremists. It should be recalled that both countries already have large numbers of refugees - 3.6 million in Turkey and just under 3.5 million in Iran. Moreover, tensions could rise sharply between the Turkish and Iranian populations, who have already repeatedly expressed their weariness with the incessant influx of refugees.

The economic situation in both countries is quite complex, as it could not be otherwise during the pandemic season. Add to that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's poor management of the country, and we see images of the population calling for his resignation - which is nothing new either. It is no different in Iran, where the economy is also suffering greatly, compounded by international sanctions imposed by, among others, the United States in connection with the ever-controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

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Presidencia iraní/AFP - Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi presiding over a cabinet meeting in Tehran on 8 August 2021.

Some experts believe that the Taliban's rise to power has deprived Erdogan of a major strategic opportunity he had hoped to play, in the hope of improving relations with US President Joe Biden: ensuring the military security of Kabul airport. Asli Aydintasbas claimed that "the entire Turkish mission is in jeopardy, as well as the idea of using Kabul airport as leverage to revive Turkey's relations with Washington". He added that "a few days ago, it looked like a golden opportunity for Turkey. Now it is a huge ticking time bomb".

The opportunity that Ankara could have enjoyed seems to have vanished. However, the situation for the Iranians is not much better, as sharing more than 900 kilometres of border with the Taliban is a major threat for them. And all the more so given that Iran is mainly Shia, while the Taliban are Sunni - to complicate the situation even more, if that is possible. For the moment, the priority for all countries with nationals in Kabul is the evacuation of all of them. The disputes seem to have been put on the back burner, although it does not look like it will be for long.