The globetrotting Afghan Taliban has visited Iran in efforts to convince the United States to pull out from the war-ravaged country. Iranian involvement in the matter brings a new player to restore peace as efforts are made for a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops.
The Afghan Taliban is making efforts to revive the stalled peace talks with US which were suspended by President Trump. They have held peace discussions in Doha, Islamabad, and negotiations in Moscow. The visit to Tehran sheds light on the changing regional alliances and how Iran is willing to open a new front against the US.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javed Zarif held talks with a Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group’s founders, and agreed to mediate between Afghan parties and the government. According to Iranian media, Zarif said that US troops need to leave Afghanistan soon and that the new government in Kabul should be inclusive.
These secret talks are the second between the Afghan Taliban and Iran since peace talks with the USA broke down in September. There have been frequent discussions secretly going on between both sides for several years. In May 2016, the US killed Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor Akhtar through a drone strike in Balochistan. He was returning from Iran after discussions on the likely emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan.
This shows that Iran is willing to work with and even support the Taliban in order to remove the US from Afghanistan. In the 1990s, relations were worse as the Taliban persecuted the Shias earning the ire of the Iranian regime. The US is also concerned that frequent interactions between Iran and the Afghan Taliban could affect efforts to end the war and seal a deal with the militant group.
Iran hopes to use Taliban to force US to withdraw from Afghanistan. Similarly, Iran wanted troops out of Iraq and gained influence in the country. Iran is now closely working with the Taliban and might gain leverage over Afghan politics.
The US must realise that Taliban are winning diplomatically by jet setting across countries, meeting old friends and making news one. The Taliban also released two Western professors held hostage for over three years in an apparent swap.
The top US general has said chances of successful Afghan peace talks are higher than before. The only obstacle is the messy political situation and the ongoing violence. US generals have expressed optimism before but there has been no positive outcome so far.