Iran Hosts Taliban Talks With Afghan Officials as U.S. Exits War

Iran is hosting talks between senior Taliban negotiators and officials from the Afghan government, as the militants make rapid territorial gains ahead of the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The Taliban said its delegation was led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, deputy head of the movement’s political office in Qatar, where months of formal peace talks between the Afghan adversaries appear to have stalled.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency on Wednesday published video of the meeting chaired by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran, without naming any of the Afghans present.

“Iran is ready to help in the process of dialog between different factions in order to resolve the current conflicts and crises in Afghanistan,” Tasnim quoted Zarif as saying. The Taliban’s Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, another of the group’s negotiators, said discussions would “touch on the current situation of the country and exchange views on a peaceful solution of the issue.”

Iran’s long border with Afghanistan places it on the front lines if fighting escalates and triggers a refugee crisis. The two countries have deep historical and cultural ties, and Iran is already home to almost 3 million displaced Afghans, according to the United Nations.

While Iran is a majority Shiite power in the Middle East, officials in the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in 2018 accused Tehran of ramping up support for the Sunni militant Taliban in retaliation for the Trump administration’s decision to reimpose sanctions on the Iranian economy.

The Taliban has made a rapid advance in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, forcing tens of thousands of families to flee their homes. Afghan forces, no longer backed by U.S.-led NATO troops, have often had to retreat, at times into neighboring countries like Tajikistan.

The U.S. has handed Bagram Airfield -- their largest military base -- back to the Afghan government as part of its plan to completely exit the country by Sept. 11 after two decades of war.

The Biden administration has asked three Central Asian nations to temporarily house at least 9,000 Afghan civilians who worked with American forces and could be targeted by the Taliban.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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