Report: Afghan Taliban Still Maintains a Relationship with Iran

The Afghan Taliban have announced the start of their 'spring offensive', even as the government in Kabul tries to bring the insurgents back to the negotiating table

The Sunni Taliban group in Afghanistan still maintains a relationship with the government of its neighbor, Shiite Iran, a state-sponsor of terrorism, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat has learned from the chief spokesman for the jihadist organization.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, revealed “the presence of relations and new [links] with Iran,” reports Asharq Al-Awsat.

However, he denied reports that the Taliban has appointed a representative in Iran.

“The movement is trying to benefit from all legitimate means to reach a regional agreement as part of the war against the American invasion; therefore, the Imara [Taliban] holds ongoing [links] with a large number of regional and neighboring states,” added the spokesman, referring to the relationship between the Taliban and Iran.

While briefing Pentagon reporters on October 21, American Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a top spokesman for the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan, said that the ultimate goal of the coalition is a “negotiated solution with the Taliban,” rather than defeating the terrorist group.

Iran has been accused of providing deadly military assistance to the Taliban in its fight against the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Some analysts, including experts at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, believe that opposition to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has fueled the ongoing links between the Taliban and Iran.

At the end of May, various news outlets reported that mutual disdain towards the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) had pulled the Afghan Taliban and Iran closer.

The ties between Iran and the Afghan Taliban have reportedly evolved into an effort to prevent the ISIS branch known as the Khorasan Province (IS-K/ISIL-KP) from flourishing in the region. Khorasan is an ancient word for the territory that primarily covers Afghanistan and Pakistan but also parts of Iran, India, and other neighboring countries.

Iran has also been affiliated with al-Qaeda, a Taliban ally.

Taliban spokesman Mujahid also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the terrorist group is seeking to establish relations with Sunni Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional enemy.

“Our religious shrines are there, and therefore this state has a big responsibility towards the Muslim world and their issues,” noted Mujahid when commenting on Taliban peace discussions between Saudi leaders and their Afghan counterparts, namely Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah.

“We seek to have a lasting and good relationship with the government and people of Saudi Arabia,” added the spokesman.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat and other news outlets, Mujahid has denied reports the Taliban recently held informal, secret peace talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Two Taliban officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the terrorist group met with the Afghan government in Qatar earlier this month.

U.S. officials played a role in the negotiation process, added the Taliban members, without specifying whether the Americans directly participated in the talks.

“There were no such meetings. We reject any secret negotiations with representatives of the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. There is no truth to such reports,” the Taliban spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat.