Iran is conducting its own talks with the Taliban as a U.S. envoy has quiet talks in an effort to ink a peace deal with the terror group.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Dec. 17 that the group — tight al-Qaeda allies whose continuing attacks kill civilians as well as target police and military — met with U.S., Pakistani, Saudi and Emirati representatives in Abu Dhabi. The U.S. envoy, native Afghan and former Bush administration UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, previously met twice with the Taliban in Qatar.
Mujahid said that “discussions were held with the American side over the end to the invasion of Afghanistan” but did not elaborate. The Taliban have refused to meet directly with the Afghan government, which they consider illegitimate.
Despite the Taliban’s attacks including January’s Intercontinental Hotel siege, nefarious alliances and training relationships, killings of Americans and, just two months ago, an assassination attempt on U.S. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the Trump administration, like the Obama administration, has declined to list the group as a terrorist organization so that talks could be conducted without technically negotiating with a terrorist group.
But just days after the Abu Dhabi meeting, the Taliban sat down with Iranian officials at an undisclosed location. Announcing the meeting in a visit to Kabul, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said that “the Afghan government has been informed of the communications and talks carried out with the Taliban, and this process will continue,” according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which is closely linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Shamkhani said they focused on how to “curb the security problems in Afghanistan.” It’s believed to be the first talks between Iran and the Taliban, or the first that have been publicly disclosed.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported Wednesday that Shamkhani warned in Kabul of ISIS blooming in the region and said a U.S. pullout would be a chance to leave Tehran’s security imprint on the region. “The regional nations are counting each moment for a full withdrawal of the US forces as their deployment has resulted in nothing, but war and insecurity,” he said.
Earlier this year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed the U.S. was transferring ISIS terrorists to Afghanistan as “justification of its continued deployment in the region and establishment of security for the Zionist regime.”
Shamkhani asserted on his Kabul visit that “the Islamic Republic has always been one of the primary pillars of stability in the region.”
Iran has longstanding ties with al-Qaeda — Hamza bin Laden was sheltered there — and the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism says Iran allows the terror group to operate a “facilitation base” there. This pipeline feeds al-Qaeda networks from Syria to south Asia.