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Jaishankar on whirlwind tour of Tehran, Moscow with Afghan peace talks on table

Iran brokering deal between Afghan govt and Taliban amid Jaishankar’s stopover in Tehran(Photo: Twitter)

While Iran was trying to broker a peace deal by hosting the both warring parties–the leaders of the Afghanistan government and the Taliban–External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar landed in Tehran en route to Moscow on Wednesday. As the wheels of diplomacy turned swiftly, Iranian media reported that Jaishankar and his Iranian counterpart Muhammad Javad Zarif reached a consensus. Both the parties should go back to the negotiation table under Intra-Afghan talks immediately. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif assured Jaishankar that Iran is trying its best to bring the representatives of Afghan government and Taliban closer to a comprehensive political solution. Jaishankar is now in Moscow, with Afghanistan among the top of his talking points.

Also Read:  Jaishankar stops over in Tehran as Intra-Afghan Dialogue Summit begins in Iranian capital

Later, back to the conference room, where the both warring parties faced each other across the table in Tehran, Zarif, the host, warned them that continuation of conflicts between the government and the Taliban will have “unfavourable” consequences for Afghanistan, noting that a return to the intra-Afghan negotiations is the “best solution”. He underlined that the Afghan crisis can be resolved only through intra-Afghan talks. Armed conflict will only result in worsening the situation.

The high-ranking political delegation representing the Afghan government is headed by Yunus Qanouni and the Taliban team is headed by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai.

Stanikzai is the head of the Taliban's political office in Doha.

The high-level Intra-Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government follow months-old discussions in Qatar that have been stalled by a diplomatic stalemate and escalating violence. Iran’s top diplomat pledged to end the crisis, fighting surged in Afghanistan’s western Badghis province.

Iran has been repeatedly accused of supporting the Taliban, including supplying the militants with weapons and munitions in western and southwestern Afghanistan.

Iranian officials, including Zarif, however, have only confirmed maintaining ties with the Taliban, denying arms support to the group.

Iran has held numerous meetings with the Taliban officials and the Afghan government to broker peace between the two sides but so far these talks have not been able to accomplish significant results.

Iran, the seat of Shia Islam, has historically been at ideological odds with a powerful Sunni Taliban. However, the US-led intervention in Afghanistan that brought US military might closer to Iran’s borders, has dictated Tehran’s response towards both the Taliban and the incumbent government in Kabul. Realising the need for engagement despite their obvious and even fundamental differences, the wily Taliban, on its part appointed a Shia Hazara, Mawlavi Mahdi, as a shadow district chief.

Today, the relationship between the Taliban and Iran indicates how the group has been trying to build its political credibility through the years. From almost going to war with the Taliban in 1998, to supporting the US invasion in 2001, today Tehran hosts high-level meetings with the top Taliban leaders aimed at stopping the growth of the Islamic State-Khorasan in the region. 

Meanwhile, one of the most conservative media outlets of Iran Jamouhari Eslami, has “warned” Iranian leaders that “the Taliban is no less a risk to Iran’s national security than the Islamic State Group (IS).” The Taliban's recent territorial gains also have fuelled national security concerns in Iran.

Tehran Daily Warns Growing Taliban Role Threatens Iran

The daily quoted an unnamed academic saying that the Taliban had destroyed infrastructure including schools, electricity poles, telephone lines, and hospitals in Achin, Nangarhar, and Barchi, attacking infants and women in childbirth.

“They are the enemies of human beings and their progress, the Taliban, Isis, and al-Qaeda are the enemies of national unity and territorial integrity. The world needs to understand the threat of this unholy triangle. They are deeply connected and stand united as the enemies of mankind and human civilization. They are involved in drug dealing, smuggling, money laundering, and financial corruption,” the daily cautioned.

Experts believe while Tehran arguably may not become a big player in the Kabul-Taliban war, it nevertheless offers other regional players, a diplomatic gateway for quiet engagement.