Afghanistan has rebuked neighboring Iran over statements by senior officials that acknowledged Tehran’s contacts with the Taliban and emphasized a role for the hard-line Islamist Afghan movement in the country’s future government.
“Afghanistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry reiterates that any kind of relations with the Taliban outside the bilateral relations [between Iran and Afghanistan] will weaken our relations,” Deputy Afghan Foreign Minister Idrees Zaman wrote on Twitter on January 10.
The comments follow an interview by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. In an interview broadcast on January 9, he told India’s private NDTV that Tehran had talked to the Taliban and his country’s secret service maintains contacts with the Afghan insurgents.
"I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban,” Zarif told NDTV. “But we also believe that the Taliban do not have, should not have, a dominant role in Afghanistan.”
Zarif acknowledged that Tehran has had “unofficial intelligence” contacts with the Taliban.
“We need to secure our border, and they [the Taliban] occupy parts of our border areas on the Afghanistan side,” he said. “So, for the security of our citizens, we needed to have minimum contact with them.”
But the statement touched some raw nerves in Kabul. Shahussain Murtazawi, a deputy Afghan presidential spokesman, said that the Iranian officials were working as spokespeople for the Taliban.
In a Facebook post, he questioned why Tehran was not pondering over negotiations with domestic opposition groups despite suffering political instability for years.
“If Iran believes in talks, it should pay attention to its domestic problems,” he wrote on January 10 in a post that was later deleted. “Why are they not talking to Mujahedin-e Khalq”?
Human rights watchdogs say that members of the leftist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK) have faced persecution in Iran for decades.
The Taliban and Tehran have found some common ground in recent years. Their relations are remarkable because Iran’s Shi’ite clerical regime mobilized for war against the hard-line Sunni Islamist Taliban regime in the late 1990s.
In recent weeks, Tehran has even approached Kabul to facilitate peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But its diplomatic flurry has also showcased its deep connections to the Taliban.
During the past two decades, Western and Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Tehran of supporting the Taliban against the U.S.-led international military forces in Afghanistan.