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Trapping of Iranian diplomats in Herat consulate triggers memories of the Mazar-e-Sharif bloodbath

Trapping of Iranian diplomats in Herat consulate triggers memories of the Mazar-e-Sharif bloodbath (courtesy IRNA).

There is a chilling sense of Déjà vu as the Taliban closes in on Herat, Iran’s 3rd largest city.

Iranian diplomats are once again holed up in their consulate in Herat, a situation that triggers bitter memories of a similar incident that took place in 1998, and ended in unforgivable tragedy.

On August 8 in 1998, eight Iranian diplomats and a correspondent of IRNA were trapped in the consulate building in  Mazar-e-Sharif, after the Taliban stormed into the city. They were tragically murdered in the building—a fact that the Iranians known for their long memories have never forgotten. The embers of the sorrowful incident are still aglow.

On Sunday,  the Iranians have once again bugled that, from their side, there is no closure to the tragedy.

"August 8 marks one of the most bitter days for the diplomatic arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran," read an Iran foreign ministry statement released a day earlier.

It added: "23 years ago, on such a day, Iranian diplomats and an Iranian reporter were martyred at the country's consulate general in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, in an act of cowardice and in violation of commitments made to Tehran as well as international regulations and treaties and the human and Islamic common sense."

Unsurprisingly, the foreign ministry vowed that it will not rest till all dimensions of the incident are revealed. The Islamic Republic of Iran "pledges to pursue the issue as an obvious demand of the Iranian government and nation until the hidden aspects of the incident come to light," the statement said. It stressed that Tehran "honours the memory of the martyrs of this incident and, once more, strongly condemns the executed act of terrorism".

Analysts say that Iran's fury is directed at Pakistan as the hand of the Pak-based hard-line Sunni organisation Sipah-e-Shahaba Pakistan (SSP) is suspected in the execution of the murders.

It is widely acknowledged that the SSP, with links to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is the mothership of a number of internationally proscribed terror groups, including the ultra-radical lashkar-e-Jahangvi (leJ).

Also Read: How murder of diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif 23 years ago permanently scarred Iran-Pak ties

But 23 years later, the Iranians are staring at a similar predicament in Herat. The Director General of West Asia at Iran's Foreign Ministry on Friday said that Iranian diplomats are inside Iran's consulate general in Herat and the officials are keeping in constant touch with them, IRNA reported.

“The Consul General, diplomats, and personnel of the Consulate General of the Islamic Republic of Iran are inside the premises,” Rasoul Mousavi wrote in his Twitter account.

He added that the city's governing forces have committed to the full security of Iran’s consulate, its diplomats, and personnel.

But given the historical precedent, coupled with the never-again sentiment, it is natural that Tehran would be keeping all options open to prevent the repeat of the incident that took place more than two decades ago.