Iran has rejected claims that it is supporting the Taliban — whom Tehran once fiercely opposed — in Afghanistan.
The Iranian Embassy in Kabul on Tuesday dismissed remarks by the Saudi chargé d’affaires, Mishari al-Harbi, saying they were “baseless and groundless”:
The claim of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s support for armed groups inside Afghanistan made by a regime which had recognized the former Taliban government and still has broad links with various terrorist groups in the country and the entire region seems bizarre.
The Embassy said Iranian diplomats have been victims of “acts of violence and terror” in Afghanistan, citing a 1998 attack that killed eight personnel and a correspondent for the State outlet IRNA in 1998.
The statement tried to turn the Saudi claim back on Riyadh, saying the root causes of extremist and terrorist ideology in the region are “clear to all” with the pursuit of “wrong policies” by sponsors.
Iran was once a determined foe of the Sunni Taliban, which attacked Shia communities in Afghanistan as it took control from 1996. After the 9-11 attacks, Tehran welcomed the US-supported operations to oust the Taliban from power in Kabul, as Iran gained influence in western Afghanistan, especially in the city of Herat.
However, Afghan officials have recently said that Iranian units accompanied the Taliban in attacks on Kabul’s security forces. They describe a three-week siege in Farah Province last October which was finally ended by US airstrikes. The officials say “four senior Iranian commandos” were among the dead, with the bodies of Taliban fighters also taken across the border into the Islamic Republic.
Mohammed Arif Shah Jehan, Farah Province’s governor and a senior intelligence official, says, “The regional politics have changed. The strongest Taliban here are Iranian Taliban.”
Last year Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, wanted by the US since before 2001, was killed in Pakistan after he returned from a trip to Iran where he met Iranian and Russian security officials.
Russia and Iran say meetings with the Taliban were only for information.