January 9, 2019 / 11:06 AM / 6 months ago

Iran says Taliban must have Afghan role, but can't dominate

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Taliban must have a role in Afghanistan in future, Iran’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, but added that the hardline Islamist group should not have a dominant role.Efforts for a negotiated settlement of the 18-year war in Afghanistan have gathered pace in recent weeks, even as reports that U.S. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops have triggered uncertainty in Kabul.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran business forum in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has held three rounds of talks with the Taliban, but on Tuesday, the militants cancelled a fourth round, which had been due in Qatar this week.

The militants said they called off the talks because of an “agenda disagreement”, especially over the involvement of officials from the Western-backed Afghan government as well as a possible ceasefire.

Largely Shi’ite Muslim Iran has long been wary of the Sunni Muslim Taliban.

But Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a visit to India that Iran has had intelligence contacts with the Taliban because it needed to secure border areas controlled by the Taliban on the Afghan side.

“I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban,” Zarif, who is in New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders, told NDTV in an interview.

“But we also believe that the Taliban should not have a dominant role in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban, who are fighting to oust all foreign forces and defeat the government, want to re-impose strict Islamic law in Afghanistan after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led troops.

Zarif said it was up to Afghans to decide what role the Taliban should have but Afghanistan’s neighbours would not want them to be in overall control.

“Nobody in the region believes that a Taliban dominated Afghanistan is in the security interests of the region. I believe that is almost a consensus.”

A Taliban source speaking about the cancelled talks told Reuters that U.S. officials had insisted that the Taliban should meet Afghan officials in Qatar and said “both sides were in disagreement over declaring a ceasefire in 2019”.

The Taliban have rejected repeated requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary.

Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel

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