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Iran hosts Taliban, Afghan officials as US exits

AT News

KABUL: In the midst of a security vacuum being left by the United States in Afghanistan, Iran is hosting senior Taliban negotiators and Afghan officials, a Taliban spokesman said on Wednesday – the latest in a string of Tehran’s attempts to facilitate peace negotiations between the feuding factions in the embattled country.

“Iran has invited Taliban delegation from Doha, led by Abbas Stanikzai, for bilateral meetings,” said Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman.

Taliban have made rapid advances through Afghanistan in recent weeks on the heels of the United States withdrawal of its entire troops from the war-battered country – which has coalesced with growing fears by Afghanistan’s neighbors about the deteriorating situation.

Taliban delegation is expected to meet with a group of Afghan politicians, led by former vice president Younus Qanooni, in Tehran. Other officials include Karim Khurram and Ershad Ahmadi, close aides of former President Hamid Karzai, President Ghani’s advisor Salaam Rahimi, Zahir Wahdat of Hezb-e-Wahdat party and Mohammadullah Batash from Junbish party.

Tehran has hosted the Taliban group several times, seeking to untangle the twist in Afghan negotiations which have long been stampeded as Afghan government and the Taliban have been on loggerheads over mutual issues of conflict.

Iran’s Tasnim news agency on Wednesday published video of the meeting chaired by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Tehran.

“Iran is ready to help in the process of dialogue between different factions in order to resolve the current conflicts and crises in Afghanistan,” Tasnim quoted Zarif as saying.

A Taliban top negotiator, Suhail Shaheen, said discussions would “touch on the current situation of the country and exchange views on a peaceful solution of the issue.”

Iran has porous border with Afghanistan and an escalation of fighting is seen by Iranian officials as tantamount to spillover of conflict and influx of refugees. Iran is already hosting almost 3 million Afghan refugees.

Reports suggest that Qatar is also trying to jumpstart the fractured Afghan peace process and has appointed a special envoy for that matter.

Qatar Special Envoy to Afghanistan Mutlaq al-Qahtani arrived in Kabul on Tuesday and met senior Afghan political leaders including former president Hamid Karzai to discuss how to expedite the stalled Doha peace talks. Al-Qahtani is also expected to meet Afghan government officials.

This happened after a group of politicians led by Abdullah Abdullah postponed a trip to Qatar for talks with the Taliban following an unprecedented escalation of Taliban attacks.

A senior Taliban negotiator announced the continuation of talks with Afghan government in Doha, but Mustafa Mastoor, a senior adviser to the High Council for National Reconciliation, said that the Doha talks have faced an impasse due to disagreements between the Taliban and Afghan negotiators.

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