TEHRAN – Iran plans to host a meeting between the Afghan government and other groups to bring peace to the war-torn country, Fars news agency reported on Saturday.
The agency did not say if the Taliban will take part in the talks, only stating that all Afghan groups will attend them. Neither did it say when meeting will take place, although it said the talks will take place “soon.”
The meeting will be hosted by an Iranian organization called “Global Forum of Islamic Awakening” and will be held virtually.
Last week, Iran hosted Afghan peace talks for the second time this month. Delegations from the Afghan government and the Taliban discussed in Tehran ways to achieve peace after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“Courage in peace is more important than courage in war, because peace needs sacrifice and forgiveness, needs ignoring one’s maximal demands, and paying attention to the other side’s demands, especially in these talks where there is no other side, and both sides are brothers seeking peace and calm for the Afghan nation,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif told the participants.
Less than seven weeks before the last U.S. soldier is set to leave Afghanistan after two decades, the Taliban say they control around 85 percent of the country.
Iran, which shares a more than 900-kilometre (550-mile) border with Afghanistan, has taken a pragmatic approach toward the conflict, trying to bring the warring sides together and broker peace.
While Iran has long called for the forces of the United States to leave Afghanistan, it is wary of the Central Asian country falling once again into chaos.
One key fear is a new influx of refugees from a country where the UN refugee agency has already warned of “imminent humanitarian crisis”.
The agency says Iran already hosts nearly 3.5 million Afghans, who make up nearly four percent of its population.
Any further influx would add to the challenges facing a country already mired in economic problems since Washington reimposed sanctions in 2018.
Iranian officials confirmed last week that the border with Afghanistan was “peaceful and secure” after the Taliban said they had seized a key crossing.
But leading Iranian newspaper Kayhan warned of potential spillovers from sectarian violence next door.
“The Taliban insist that they nothing against Shias and that it respect the borders of Iran, but the Taliban’s approach built on force, means Shias and the borders of our country face an uncertain future,” it said.
The Taliban’s comeback has also sparked fears that terrorists linked to the Daesh group could also gain a more solid foothold in Afghanistan.
Iran had tense relations with the Taliban between 1996 when they took power and 2001 when they
were toppled in an American-led invasion over their links to Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
Tehran never recognized the Taliban’s rule, accusing the hardline group of persecuting Afghanistan’s sizeable Shia minority.
Iranian officials have repeatedly stressed that while the Taliban are not a solution to Afghanistan’s problems, they are “a reality” and must be “part of a future solution” agreed by Afghans themselves.
On Thursday, senior cleric Grand Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani issued a statement warning the government that “it would be a grave, irreparable error to trust” the Taliban.