Iran says sees Taliban role in future Afghan gov't

Policy shift comes at a time when US envoy on Afghanistan is on 4-nation tour in region

Iran says sees Taliban role in future Afghan gov't

In an unprecedented development, Iran on Wednesday said it sees a "limited" role for the Taliban in any future government in war-torn Afghanistan. 

"I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban. But we also believe that the Taliban do not have -- should not have -- a dominant role in Afghanistan.

"Of course at the end of the day that is the decision that the Afghans need to make," Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif told Nidhi Razdan of the Indian broadcaster NDTV in an exclusive interview. 

Zarif is currently on an official visit in New Delhi at a time when Iran is facing severe sanctions by the United States and its allies since November 2018.  

For the first time, Iran formally hosted a Taliban delegation on December 30, 2018, in Tehran. 

"Since the Taliban are in control of more than 50 percent of Afghanistan and given the insecurity, instability and other issues that the country is dealing with, they [the Taliban] were interested in talks with Iran,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi had told reporters in Tehran a day after the December meeting was held. 

Interestingly, on the day Tehran hosted the Taliban delegation, Afghan officials announced that the country’s presidential election, scheduled for April 20, 2019, will be delayed by three months to ensure the polls are better organized than the chaotic parliamentary elections held in October. 

The statement from Iran just as Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, commenced a two-week four-nation tour as part of the process for an intra-Afghan political settlement.  

Khalilzad will be visiting Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and India, the U.S. State Department announced Tuesday.  

The U.S.-led NATO pull-out from Afghanistan has raised eyebrows in India, however, Zarif said that Iran believes the presence of U.S. troops did "nothing to help on the security and stability of Afghanistan". 

India's outspoken army chief in New Delhi also advocated for talks with the Taliban. 

"There should be negotiations with the Taliban, but without conditions," Press Trust of Indian quoted General Bipin Rawat as saying. 

On Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, Iran’s foreign minister said Iran believes that Pakistani position on Afghanistan is "evolving" and "we believe that Pakistan now is trying to play a positive role in getting a peace process underway in Afghanistan".  

"I understand that the Pakistanis also do not wish to see an Afghanistan dominated by extremist groups... But for Pakistan, it is an existential threat. Extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan is an existential threat for Pakistan," Zarif noted.  

Zarif added: "We cannot be prisoners of the past."  

"We need to work for a better future and Iran is ready to work with Pakistan in order to realize what the Pakistani leaders have been telling us that they believe fighting extremist groups is in their national security interest and we believe analytically, that that is the case."