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Taliban Representatives’ Visit to Tehran

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Taliban confirmed reports about visit of Taliban representatives from Tehran and negotiations between the two sides about ‘mutual interests’. Qari Mohammad Yousaf Ahmadi, a spokesman of the militant group, confirmed the trip a day after Iran’s foreign ministry officials and the Iranian embassy in Kabul denied the news initially reported by Iranian Fars News Agency. In a statement, the spokesman of the Taliban said that representatives of the political branch of the Taliban in Qatar paid a visit to Tehran having talks with Iranian officials, while another Taliban delegation also visited Tehran to attend a conference there. According to the reports, some senior members of the Taliban such as Tayeb Agha and Moulawi Shahabuddin Delawar included in the delegation of the Taliban.

The visit, if taken place, is marking an unprecedented effort by the Taliban to more actively engage with countries that are involved in the Afghan conflict. This is particularly important when the US-led international coalition is withdrawing from Afghanistan and the peace talks with the insurgent groups is stalled due to the strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The detailed statement of the Taliban has the overtone as if a formal talk between representatives of two states has occurred. A report by Pakistani paper The Express Tribune said that the delegation discussed issues such as Afghan refugees with Iranian officials and reassured Tehran that all factions in Afghanistan would have representation in any post-2014 setup in Afghanistan. All these are obviously indicating that the Taliban are attempting to strengthen its stance in peace negotiations or in a prolonged conflict by boosting its regional engagement. In the meantime, the move is an attempt for show of strength by the Taliban as the group is preparing for a post-NATO period in Afghanistan.

Another scenario about the trip is that Iran invited the Taliban to visit Tehran with purpose of sending a warning signal to foreign powers involved in Afghanistan, specifically the United States. Iran has always sought to play a role in the Afghan conflict but mostly has been sidelined by the United States. In the past, even Tehran was accused of secretly backing insurgent groups in Afghanistan to launch attacks against foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan. Iran is well aware of the vulnerability of the Afghan-Western anti-Taliban coalition in the eve of foreign withdrawal from Afghanistan. Therefore, Tehran may be seeking more influence in the developments in Afghanistan through exerting pressures on Afghanistan and its international backers.

But the bottom line about any relations between Iran and the Taliban is that they never trust each other as Tehran and the Taliban has a bitter history of animosity to each other. In the past, both sides were considered strategic enemies to each other and Tehran help the US to topple the Taliban regime in 2001. Thus, the game is only a time-friendly move for both sides. According to the reports, the Taliban delegation has asked Tehran not to back the rival Northern Alliance in order to avert a civil war in Afghanistan. This request is seemingly a part of amore pragmatic approach by the Taliban to the regional players in Afghanistan.

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