Afghan Taliban delegation visits Iran for ‘Afghan peace’ talks

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A high-level Taliban delegation arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for talks with Iranian officials on the peace process in war-torn Afghanistan.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the delegation’s visit of the delegation, led by deputy leader Mullah Ghani Baradar, comes upon an invitation from Tehran.

The delegation will meet senior Iranian officials during the visit, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Iran’s special envoy for Afghanistan Ebrahim Taherianfard.

The ongoing intra-Afghan peace process and US troop withdrawal from the war-torn country are expected to figure high during the discussions.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said the two sides will discuss “relations between Tehran and Kabul, issues related to Afghan refugees in Iran, and prevailing political and security situation of Afghanistan and the region”.

The visit comes in the middle of the second round of intra-Afghan talks in Doha and days after the new US administration said it will review a deal reached between the militant group and the outgoing Donald Trump administration on the drawdown of US troops from the war-ravaged country.

The second leg of marathon talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that resumed on Jan. 6 has made little progress, even as violence peaks in Afghanistan.

The rising incidents of violence and high civilian casualties have cast a shadow over the talks that first began in September last year.

Tuesday’s Taliban visit comes a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said a “new chapter has been opened” in Kabul’s relations with Washington, welcoming President Joe Biden’s plan to review the troop drawdown.

Iran’s contacts with the Taliban have increased in recent years, with top insurgent leaders visiting Tehran and holding deliberations with senior Iranian officials.

This is Mullah Baradar’s second official visit to Tehran in recent years. He had previously traveled in November 2019 when he held talks with Zarif.

Iran has lately backed Taliban’s inclusion in Afghanistan’s future political structure, and repeatedly called for the withdrawal of US forces from the country.

However, the top Iranian diplomat recently stirred hornet’s nest when he said the Taliban continue to be on the Iranian and UN list of “terrorist groups”.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, taking exception to Zarif’s remarks, said the group was “not on any UN terror list”, calling on Iranian officials to refrain from making “irresponsible statements”.

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