NEW DELHI (Dispatches) -- The Taliban must have a role in Afghanistan in future, Iran’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, but added that the hardline group should not have a dominant role.
Efforts for a negotiated settlement of the 18-year war in Afghanistan have gathered pace in recent weeks after reports that U.S. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from the war-torn country.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has held three rounds of talks with the Taliban, but on Tuesday, the militants canceled a fourth round, which had been due in Qatar this week.
The militants said they called off the talks because of an "agenda disagreement”, especially over the involvement of officials from the Western-backed Afghan government as well as a possible ceasefire.
Iran has long been wary of the Taliban which it holds responsible for the massacre of Iranian diplomats at the country’s consulate in Mazar-i Sharifin in 1998. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi stressed this month that Iran’s recent talks with the Taliban are not a reason for Tehran to forget the militant group’s killing of 10 Iranian diplomats and an IRNA correspondent.
But Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif said on a visit to India that Iran has had intelligence contacts with the Taliban because it needed to secure border areas controlled by the Taliban on the Afghan side.
"I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban,” Zarif, who is in New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders, told NDTV in an interview. "But we also believe that the Taliban should not have a dominant role in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban, who are fighting to oust all foreign forces and defeat the government, want to reimpose its own strict interpretation of Islamic law in Afghanistan after their 2001 ouster.
Zarif said it was up to Afghans to decide what role the Taliban should have but Afghanistan’s neighbors would not want them to be in overall control.
"Nobody in the region believes that a Taliban dominated Afghanistan is in the security interests of the region. I believe that is almost a consensus.”
A Taliban source speaking about the canceled talks told Reuters that U.S. officials had insisted that the Taliban should meet Afghan officials in Qatar and said "both sides were in disagreement over declaring a ceasefire in 2019”.
The Taliban have rejected repeated requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary.
When asked about Pakistan's continued support to terror groups in Afghanistan, Zarif said Pakistan was trying to play a "positive role".
"We believe 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,” he said.
"I understand that the Pakistanis also do not wish to see an Afghanistan dominated by extremists groups... but for Pakistan it is an existential threat. Extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan is an existential threat for Pakistan."
Zarif said Iran disagreed with Pakistan in the 90s when they created the Taliban or helped create the Taliban.
"We were the first to offer victims to suffer in the hands of the Taliban - 11 of my colleagues were murdered by the Taliban, but 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 extremists groups is in their national security interest and we believe analytically, that that is the case."
India says it is worried about instability in Afghanistan, particularly after Trump announced he would withdraw 7,000 U.S. troops from there. Zarif, however, said Iran believes the presence of U.S. troops did "nothing to help on the security and stability of Afghanistan.”
Asked about the .U.S sanctions which have brought down India's oil imports from Iran, Zarif said, "We have been able to engage with each other even under more difficult circumstances and I am confident that Iran and India will find - particularly our private sector - will find possibilities to evade these illegal measures.”
"Let's remind ourselves that these are illegal measures. We are not trying to evade law; we are trying to evade lawlessness, we are trying to evade bullying," he said.