A top Iranian diplomat who visited Kabul last week said Iran doubts the US’s will for the peace process in Afghanistan for many reasons, and it sees America’s Afghan presence as “dangerous” and that of a "troublemaker" in the region.
Talking to TOLOnews in an exclusive interview, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sayed Abbas Araghchi said the focus should be on the intra-Afghan negotiations, under the current circumstances.
The negotiations have faced multiple delays because of disagreements over the prisoners' exchange between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The intra-Afghan negotiations are expected to happen in the near future as the prisoner exchange is about to be completed.
“We believe that America should not be trusted, and we believe that the US presence in the region is dangerous and will create many disagreements,” Araghchi said.
The Iranian diplomat criticized the US for holding talks with the Taliban and inviting them to Doha and making a deal with them.
“Everyone knows who created the Taliban, who has supported them, who is negotiating with them and who is making a deal with them. It is an evident reality. The US, which counts itself an ally of Afghanistan, has negotiated with the Taliban and has made a deal with them,” Araghchi said. “We do not have relations of this type with the Taliban. We had talks with them. They have had trips to Iran, and we have met them. The goal of these meetings has been to encourage their presence in the peace process and intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Araghchi rejected allegations that the Iranian government armed the Taliban.
“We have contact with all groups in Afghanistan because we have more than 1,000 kilometers of border with Afghanistan and because we have seen the damage from changes in Afghanistan for years,” Araghchi said, adding that Iran is not negotiating with the Taliban regarding Afghanistan.
“It might be a few years that we have had contact with (the Taliban), as we have had contacts with other groups. We have listened to their views and have shared our views,” he said. “At one point (the Taliban’s) representative traveled to Iran. I talked to him. Another representative (of the Taliban) also visited Iran who met with our foreign minister.”
Araghchi said the Taliban does not have an office in Iran and that “the Shurai Mashhad (Mashhad council) is something that the Taliban might have made themselves but does not exist from our point of view.”
In response to a question about reports of Afghan refugees being used in Iran’s war in Syria in recent years, Araghchi said they praise this act by Afghan refugees.
“The forces who are known as Fatemiyoun are those who sacrificed their blood for the security of Afghanistan and the region,” he said. “There was no force in place.”
Two incidents happened in Iran and on its borders with Afghanistan involving Afghan refugees living in that country.
Back in May, a group of Afghans who wanted to cross the border to Iran in areas adjacent to Herat province were “beaten and forced by Iranian border police to cross a river” and the majority of them were reportedly drowned.
On June 6, three Afghan migrants were killed, and four others were wounded after their vehicle was shot by Iranian police in Yazd province and started on fire. Iranian officials at that time confirmed that the vehicle was shot. The two incidents sparked outrage among Afghans, in the country and abroad.
Investigations into the two incidents, however, ended without results.
Araghchi called the Yazd incident “very bad” and tragic and said it was regretted by all Iranians, including him, and that the incident might have happened to anyone -- other refugees and Iranians, as well as Afghan refugees.
“We should act in a way that the possibility of such incidents is low,” he said. “The most important action is to establish a legal process for the presence of foreign nationals and Afghan nationals in Iran.”
On the drowning incident, he said that Iranian authorities investigated the incident and found that there was “no intention” for this to happen from the Iranian forces.
“The investigation is still underway. We have found that our border forces made every effort so that the individuals could return (to their country) safely… The problem is that there aren’t any border outposts on the Afghan side. The problem is that there is no border control from Afghanistan; all control is by our side. The problem is that Afghan nationals have illegal roaming… The problem is the human traffickers; those who take big amounts of money from Afghan nationals and carry them to Iran through ‘bad’ routes.”
He explained: “The narrative that we have heard is that our border forces prevented the nationals from entering Iran because they were illegal… It was the human traffickers who forced them (Afghan nationals) to cross the river because they did not want to return their money.”
In this interview, Araghchi blamed the Afghan government for not controlling its borders, which, according to him, provides the opportunity for the illegal migration of Afghans to Iran.
Araghchi described Afghanistan-Iran relations as “very extensive, long-term, and overall friendly.”
The Iranian diplomat also rejected the reports that Afghan nationals are used as leverage by Iran.
Referring also to water usage issues, Araghchi said: “Our policy on migrants and water is absolutely clear,” he said. “Water can be an issue of cooperation between Iran and Afghanistan as can the issue of migrants and refugees, too.”
Araghchi said Iran is ready to host the Afghan peace talks if the Kabul government asks.