KABUL -- Recent comments from Iranian officials about the Taliban's position in Afghanistan have angered officials and prominent figures who say Tehran is interfering in Afghan affairs.
A Taliban delegation visited Tehran last week, as talks with the Afghan government that resumed in Qatar in January have made little progress.
The delegation, headed by Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Iran on January 26 at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
"In today's meeting with the #Taliban political delegation: I found the leaders of this group determined to fight the United States," Iranian Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani said in a January 27 post on Twitter.
"It is unfortunate that your understanding of the war in Afghanistan ... is not correct," Afghan chief of army staff Muhammad Yasin Zia said in response.
"The Taliban are not fighting against the United States but rather against the Afghan people, and we strongly stand against any group that is the enemy of Afghanistan," he said in a January 28 post on Twitter.
Using Taliban to destabilise Afghanistan
The Taliban delegation's visit to Tehran shows Iran's true agenda in Afghanistan, political and security analysts said.
"Iran uses the Taliban as a military and political weapon to achieve its security and political interests and goals," said Kabul-based political analyst Aminullah Shariq, as Shamkhani's tweet makes clear.
"As the peace talks are under way, such statements by Iranian authorities can damage the peace process and instigate the Taliban to continue fighting," Shariq said.
"By officially inviting a terrorist group to their country, Iranian authorities have interfered in our country's internal matters, damaged our interests and national security, and violated international law," he added.
"Iran is one of the Taliban's supporters and a force behind them, and it plays a key role in destabilising Afghanistan," said military and political analyst Salim Paigir.
Shamkhani's statements "once again proved this bitter reality to the Afghan people -- that the Iranian authorities see their interests in the continuation of war, unrest and instability in Afghanistan", he said.
"Since the United States and the Taliban have signed the peace agreement, no American has been targeted, but thousands of Afghan security personnel and civilians have been killed," Paigir noted.
"The Taliban don't intend to fight against the United States," he said. "This group is determined to continue war and bloodshed of innocent Afghans to achieve Iran's interests."
Iran's undeclared war on Afghanistan
"By inviting the Taliban to Tehran, Iran is trying to legitimise a terrorist group that is engaged in fighting with the Afghan people and government," said Kabul resident Sayed Samiullah Hashemi.
With this act, he said, "Iran proves the undeclared war and enmity of Iran against the government and people of Afghanistan".
Twitter user Zamarai Baher responded to Shamkhani's tweet, calling out his "hostile treatment of the Afghan people".
"It is clear that you have embraced regional terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, and provided them with safe havens, but the Afghan people will never forget your brutal games," he said.
"The Taliban are a terrorist group, and you have also as ever proved your destructive role in the region," said Azizullah Salimi, another Twitter user.
"Iran is a terrorist-backing regime. The Taliban kill the Afghan people. In just the past one year, they have killed thousands of Afghans," he said.
Following the meetings in Tehran, Taliban officials January 28 met with Russian officials in Moscow.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, deputy leader of the Taliban team that is holding talks with the Afghan government, met with Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Afghanistan, and other Foreign Ministry officials.
The Afghan government blames the Taliban, and their recent foreign visits, for the lack of progress in talks that started in September and resumed in January.
"Since January 6, our delegation is in Doha ready to start the talks based on the agendas. But the other side is busy travelling abroad," government negotiator Muhammad Rasul Talib told reporters in Doha.
"The negotiation is not in a stalemate yet, but there is a pause, and the reason for that is the Taliban," he said.
"The Afghan delegation is calling on them to come back; we believe the current opportunity to solve the problems should not be wasted."
No intention for peace
"The Taliban don't have any intentions for peace," said Kabul University lecturer Khalilurahman Sarwari, noting that the group agreed with the United States that it would sever its relations with al-Qaeda and reduce violence.
"We also witness that the group has not reduced violence but rather resorted to targeted killings as a new fighting tactic for silencing effective voices of society."
"The visit of the Taliban's political office's delegation to Tehran and Moscow poses new challenges to the peace efforts," Sarwari said. "These challenges can cause the peace process to fail."
"Although the Taliban had promised they would begin the second phase of peace talks ... it has been two weeks, and the Taliban haven't come to the negotiating table," said Omar Nuhzat, a political analyst in Kabul.
"On the contrary they have traveled to Moscow and Tehran for financial and military support," he said.
"The Taliban's visit to Tehran and Moscow at a time when Afghans are hopeful for peace and an end to the war is very dangerous and concerning," he added.
"If the trio of Tehran, the Taliban and Moscow intends to roll out a new plan and strategy with regards to peace and war in Afghanistan, it won't at all benefit Afghanistan or the region."