HERAT -- The Iranian regime's offer to host a Taliban delegation and the warm welcome the militants received by the Iranian Foreign Ministry are drawing outrage in Afghanistan.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week hosted Taliban leaders ostensibly to discuss efforts aimed at finding a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's political deputy chief and director of the group’s Qatar-based office, led the visiting delegation to Tehran, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted on November 26.
"Both the parties discussed the peace process and a peaceful solution of Afghanistan's problem in detail," Shaheen said.
In addition to the peace process, Iranian and Taliban officials discussed "bilateral relations" and the problems Afghan refugees face in Iran, he said.
Iran's 'dual-track strategy'
In his discussions with the Taliban, Zarif underscored the need to launch an intra-Afghan peace dialogue for “the formation of an all-inclusive government” in Afghanistan, Iranian official media reported November 27.
Given Tehran's ongoing military, financial and logistic support for the Taliban, it is difficult to believe the Iranian regime's honest intentions for Afghan reconciliation.
"Since at least 2007, Iran has provided calibrated support -- including weapons, training and funding -- to the Taliban to counter US and Western influence in Afghanistan, combat ISIS-Khorasan ['Islamic State of Iraq and Syria''s Khorasan branch] and increase Tehran's influence in any post-reconciliation government," a US Defence Intelligence Agency report published November 19 revealed.
This is part of Tehran's "dual-track strategy for engaging both local groups and the Afghan government in Kabul to achieve its broader security goals," the report said.
Still, if the Taliban are looking for a long-term ally, Tehran is a fickle partner, the study suggested.
"Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government," it said.
Move aimed at legitimising Taliban
Afghan authorities strongly condemned Tehran for hosting the Taliban and flagged it as a reason behind the two countries' faltering relations.
Mir Rahman Rahmani, speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, Monday (December 2) requested that the parliament's international relations committee summon Afghan Foreign Ministry officials to discuss the latest Iranian incursion on Afghan sovereignty.
He asked the Foreign Ministry to release a statement declaring that no country has the right to host the Taliban under any circumstances and without the presence of the Afghan government, 8am Daily reported.
The Taliban are involved in killing Afghans, and regional and neighbouring countries must not legitimise the group, Rahmani said.
"It is a severe breach of diplomatic traditions and neighbourliness that senior officials in regional and neighbouring countries host the Taliban leaders visiting these countries, and they speak with them in the absence of the Afghan government representatives," he said.
Salaam Times contacted the Foreign Ministry in Kabul, but officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Building relations between two governments is much more important than enhancing the relationship with a terrorist group, said Herat Governor Abdul Qayum Rahimi.
"Hosting a terrorist group is not the right thing to do, and we expect our neighbour to establish contacts with the Afghan government and people instead of nurturing links with the Taliban," he said.
Tehran's links with the Taliban are ruining the relationship between Afghanistan and Iran and are damaging mutual respect between the two countries, Rahimi said.
Afghan citizens also condemned the Iranian government for hosting the Taliban, expressing anger and resentment on social media for Tehran's support of the terrorist group.
Zarif "should be ashamed of himself for meeting with Mullah Baradar -- the killer of the Afghan people -- about peace and Afghan refugees in their country," Khalil Rasooli, a reporter in Herat city, wrote on Facebook on November 27.
Disrespecting international laws
This is the second time Tehran has hosted Taliban leaders since peace talks between US negotiators on behalf of the Afghan government and the Taliban were called off in early September.
A Taliban delegation previously visited Iran on September 27.
At that time, the Afghan government criticised the Taliban's visit to Tehran as well as the Iranian regime for hosting the Taliban.
The Taliban pose a severe threat to regional and global security, and hosting the group is against neighbourly relations, Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesperson for the Afghan president, tweeted on September 27.
"Some of the neighbouring countries support the Taliban for their own interests, and they bargain on behalf of them," Herat Governor Rahimi said. "The Taliban's visits are not aimed at preserving the interests of the Afghan people, but they are for ensuring interests of countries that support the terrorist group."
"Our neighbour should refrain from things that distance us from each other and damage relations between the two countries, and it ought to speak with the government and people of Afghanistan instead of receiving and hosting a terrorist group," he added.
Interfering in Afghan affairs
The Iranian government has both overtly and covertly interfered in internal and political affairs of Afghanistan for several decades, said Khalil Parsa, an anti-corruption activist and political affairs analyst originally from Herat.
Iran's hosting the Taliban is unethical and breaches diplomatic principles, he said.
"As the US efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan and their talks with the Taliban have recently progressed and produced some results, Iran and some other countries cannot tolerate them," he said.
Because "Iran has also been isolated at the regional and global levels," he said, "the Iranian regime overtly supports the Taliban to [try to] gain an advantage."
The Iranian government has a long history of supporting opponents to the Afghan government, he said.
"The recent meeting between the Taliban and Iran in Tehran is merely a spectacle and doesn't have any value," Parsa said. "With this meeting, the Iranian government wants to exhibit its strength and influence and gain some advantage over the United States."
Iran, Russia arming the Taliban
Tehran provides weapons and money to the Taliban to achieve Iranian intelligence and political goals in Afghanistan, Afghan generals and officials have said many times.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) supplies money, weapons and ammunition to the Taliban in Farah Province, said Dadullah Qani, a member of the Farah provincial council.
"The IRGC supplies a few tankers of fuel through illegal border crossings every day to the Taliban in Farah Province to use for transportation and [other] activities," he said. "The Taliban even sell the fuel and earn a lot of money daily."
"Most of the weapons that the Taliban use in the western region [of Afghanistan] ... are Iranian and Russian," he said. "The Iranian government provides all the weapons and equipment the Taliban need in Farah Province."
The Taliban have continued to retain their political and military presence, thanks to support from the Iranian and Russian regimes in the past few years, said Hasan Hakimi, a civil society activist in Ghor Province.
"These countries have tried in the past few years to enhance the Taliban's political strength, and the Taliban's visits to Moscow and Tehran clearly show their support for the group," he said.
If Iran and Russia stop supporting the Taliban, the group will not have the ability to fight, Hakimi said.
"Receiving and hosting a terrorist group that is responsible for killing tens of civilians and security forces every day prove that Iran is not a friend of the Afghan people, as it acts more like an enemy," he said.
"The friendship the country claims to have with the Afghan government is only a ruse -- [in reality] the government of Iran strives greatly to weaken the Afghan government," Hakimi said.