Iran: Taliban delegation meets Afghan opposition figures

By Syed Zafar Mehdi

TEHRAN, Iran (AA): A high-ranking Taliban delegation, led by the group’s top diplomat Acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, reportedly met with two prominent Iran-based Afghan opposition leaders in Tehran, official sources said Monday.

The meeting between the two warring Afghan parties, facilitated by Iran’s foreign ministry, took place on the sidelines of Muttaqi’s first official visit to Iran.

Ismail Khan, a former leader of the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, and Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the newly-established National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, are presently living in Iran’s Mashhad city.

While Khan, who hails from Afghanistan’s western Herat province, fled to Iran in August, apparently given a safe passage by the Taliban after an undertaking, Ahmad, who belongs to northern Afghanistan’s Panjshir province, arrived in Iran recently.

Khan was a close confidante of Ahmad’s father and top anti-Taliban commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud.

It’s the first meeting between the two sides outside Afghanistan, which materialized after Khan and Ahmad “expressed their readiness” to meet Taliban’s foreign minister, sources told Anadolu Agency.

The meeting at an undisclosed location took place in a “cordial atmosphere”, with both sides discussing the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and accompanying security challenges.

The top Taliban diplomat urged the two Afghan opposition figures to return to their country, promising immunity from reprisal, sources said.

Both Khan and Ahmad, however, stressed on the formation of an inclusive and broad-based government in Kabul, with participation of all ethnic and political groups.

Pertinently, Khan and Ahmad belong to the minority Tajik ethnic group while the Taliban are mostly Pashtun, the predominant ethnic group in Afghanistan.

Confirming that the meeting took place, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a tweet that the Taliban delegation met and held talks with the two opposition leaders and assured them they could return to their country without any worries.

Bilal Karimi, the deputy spokesman for the interim Taliban government in Afghanistan, also confirmed the meeting in a Twitter message.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said in a news briefing that the Iranian approach to Afghanistan is “inclusive” and “independent of region and ethnicity.”

He said Iran has been hosting various Afghan groups, and the Afghan-Afghan dialogue continues to be on Iran’s agenda.

Regarding Iran’s recognition of the Taliban government, the spokesman said it must be “achieved” by the group, without elaborating whether the issue figured in discussions between the two sides.

The Taliban delegation on Sunday held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-abdollahan, in which the two sides discussed bilateral ties, humanitarian crisis, situation of refugees, border security, and the longstanding water dispute among other issues.

Muttaqi was accompanied by acting ministers of economy, commerce and industry as well as the deputy chiefs of other ministries and government departments.

There had been a speculation about Iran handing over the Afghan Embassy in Tehran to the Taliban during this visit. But Iranian officials dismissed the reports as untrue.

According to a letter shared online, and apparently signed by Muttaqi, Taliban has appointed Qayyum Soleimani, the nephew of Ismail Khan, as a caretaker of the Afghan Embassy in Tehran.

The veracity of the letter could not be independently verified.

Although Iran, like other nations, has so far not recognized the new government formed by the Taliban after it took power amid a hasty withdrawal by US-led foreign forces in August, both sides have maintained close contact.

Iran is among the few countries that have kept their diplomatic missions in the war-ravaged country open.

[Photo: Afghanistan’s Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. Photographer: Sefa Karacan/AA]

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