KABUL -- Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is working with the Taliban to set up drug trafficking networks, selling the drugs in European countries to finance the militant group, according to security officials.
"Narcotics are the Taliban's greatest source of income," Bashir Bizhan, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Salaam Times. "Drug trafficking is among the common objectives of Iran and the Taliban, since they have shared interests in profiting from Afghanistan's illicit drugs."
"Iran, in co-operation with the Taliban, wants to make the western provinces of Afghanistan insecure, in order to prepare the land for drug cultivation in those provinces," Bizhan said.
By increasing its influence over Afghanistan's western provinces, Iran can enable the cultivation of drugs and easily transfer them over the border, he said.
"Iranians transport Afghan drugs to Turkey and other European countries and use the proceeds to finance the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as other terror groups in the region," he said.
"The war in Farah is in fact an opium war," Dadullah Qana, a member of the Farah provincial council, told Salaam Times.
Senior Taliban commanders process opium into heroin in Bakwa District of Farah Province before transferring the drugs to Iran under the supervision of Iranian border forces, Qana said.
"The brother of [deceased Taliban shadow governor for Herat Province] Abdul Rahman Nika, an infamous Taliban commander ... in Bakwa District of Farah Province, has been moving tonnes of illicit drugs to Iran," Qana said. "This Taliban commander also freely travels in and out of Iran while carrying his weapons."
"Security forces in Farah have arrested many Iranian drug traffickers," he said.
Afghan authorities in other provinces also have arrested several Iranians in recent months for attempting to traffic drugs across the border.
"On March 13, an Iranian citizen was arrested by Herat security forces," Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the chief of police of Herat Province, told Salaam Times. "He had skillfully concealed 29kg of narcotics inside a tire of a truck and was trying to transfer it to Iran through Islam Qala port."
In another incident February 1, security forces in Farah Province arrested an Iranian citizen who was in possession of 68kg of narcotics.
Provincial anti-drug forces discovered and confiscated the illicit drugs, which were being transported from Sheikh Abu Nasr Farahi Port, Farah Province, Police Chief Fazl Ahmad Sherzad told reporters at the time.
"The driver, who introduced himself as Naser from the Iranian city of Mashhad, was in the process of trucking those drugs to Iran," Sherzad said.
"Iranian drug traffickers smuggle narcotics with the collusion of the Iranian government, including its intelligence services," Qana said.
"The Iranian border is closed to drug traffickers who do not have ties with Iranian armed forces," Mohammad Aref Kiani, a Herat-based military affairs analyst, told Salaam Times.
However, for smugglers who "have connections and co-ordinate" with Iranian authorities, the border is open "and they are able to easily transfer illicit drugs", he said.
"The narcotics are initially transported from Helmand to Shindand District of Herat Province, then to Farah Province, and finally from Farah to Iran," Kiani said.
"The IRGC has direct ties to the Taliban and drug traffickers who thrive on the black market," he said. "In fact, the Taliban [fight] on the battlefields using drug trafficking money, as well as the support they receive from Iran."
"The IRGC runs that black economy by trafficking drugs, smuggling gemstones and exporting low quality goods to our country," he said.
"Through supporting and equipping the Taliban, Iran wants to destabilise [western Afghanistan], in order to easily transfer drugs to its own territory," Kiani said.
How likely is it that the Taliban will fracture after the recent ceasefire exposed divisions in the group?