Tehran, Iran – Iran will only support an “inclusive” government in neighbouring Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a top Taliban delegation.
In a Sunday meeting with the group led by senior Taliban figure Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Iran’s top diplomat emphasised a multilateral approach while offering to facilitate talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government and cautioning reliance on the United States.
“Political decisions can’t occur in a vacuum. Forming an all-inclusive government must be done in a participatory process that considers structures, entities and fundamental rules like the constitution,” a foreign ministry statement said.
“The war and Afghanistan’s occupation have inflicted heavy damages to the good people of Afghanistan. I hope you’ll work to end the people’s problems and take away the occupiers’ excuses out of their hands through achieving peace in Afghanistan as soon as possible,” Zarif told Baradar.
The Taliban signed a peace deal with the United States in February 2020 that aimed to ensure the safety of American allies and interests in Afghanistan and the region in exchange for the pullout of troops from the country, which has been in turmoil since the US-led invasion in 2001.
The agreement also set out the parameters for intra-Afghan talks on the future of the country that the Taliban is participating in as they are held in rounds in Doha.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last week the administration of President Joe Biden is reviewing the peace deal and is committed to ensuring the US-Afghan partnership.
Biden is expected to deliver his first major foreign policy address on Monday, which will include both the war in Afghanistan and his administration’s approach to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and regional influence.
Kabul said the Iranian government had informed it of the Taliban visit beforehand, and that Tehran said it would emphasise to the Taliban that a pause in the violent attacks against civilians and government officials was essential and that a lasting peace should be pursued within the framework of Afghanistan’s constitution.
The Taliban’s political chief, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, is also leading a delegation to Russia for talks.
“Because Mr Ghani has come to power through illegal means, it would be better for him to resign for peace and surrender power to Afghanistan’s true representatives,” Stanikzai said after touching down in Moscow.
Last week, the Taliban delegation met with Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s secretary of the Supreme Council of National Security.
In that meeting, Shamkhani told Baradar Iran opposes violence in Afghanistan, especially in the western Afghan provinces that border Iran.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will never recognise a movement that would wish to come to power through war in Afghanistan,” he said.
Expressing pessimism about US intentions in Afghanistan, Shamkhani said: “The US is not after peace and security in Afghanistan. Its approach is to perpetuate war and bloodshed between different Afghan factions.”
Shamkhani posted a tweet following the meeting, saying he believes Taliban leaders are steadfast in fighting the US.
“Someone who has been under US torture at Guantanamo for 13 years has not given up fighting the US in the region,” he wrote in reference to the infamous US prison.
The Taliban delegation’s visit, and Shamkhani’s comments, attracted criticism online from Afghan people and officials.
Yasin Zia, Afghanistan’s army chief of staff, said Shamkhani’s understanding of the war in Afghanistan was flawed.
“Taliban is not fighting against the US, it is fighting against the people of Afghanistan,” he tweeted in response to Shamkhani’s tweet. “We will act decisively against any group of enemies of Afghanistan’s people.”
Meanshile, the Taliban had recently criticised Iran for referring to it as a “terrorist” group.
In an interview with Afghanistan’s TOLOnews channel in late December, Zarif was pressed on whether Iran considers the Taliban as such.
“Look, the Taliban has done many terrorist acts. Is the Taliban still a terrorist group? In our laws we still haven’t taken Taliban out of our terror list,” the foreign minister said.
The Taliban condemned the “irresponsible” remarks that it deemed a “clear intervention in Afghanistan’s affairs”.