ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan's Taliban confirmed Monday their senior delegates met in neighboring Iran with self-exiled key Afghan opposition leaders to urge them to end resistance to the Islamist group's nascent rule and assure them of security if they return home.
Taliban Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi led his team in the meeting with Ahmad Massoud, who heads what is known as the National Resistance Front (NRF), and Ismail Khan, a former Afghan minister and provincial governor.
Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi, while sharing details of the first known direct interaction between the rival sides in Tehran, said that Muttaqi renewed Taliban assurances that it is striving to ensure a "secure future" for all Afghans to leave "no reason for any resistance."
Muttaqi himself confirmed the meeting in video remarks Taliban officials later released at the conclusion of his two-day bilateral meetings with Iranian officials.
"Yes, we met with Commander Ismail Khan and Ahmad Massoud in Iran, as well as other Afghans there," Muttaqi said.
"We assured all of them that they can come back to live freely and safely in Afghanistan. We (the Taliban) don't intend to cause any security or other problems for anyone," the chief Taliban diplomat asserted.
FILE - Ahmad Massoud (C), son of the late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud and leader of the National Resistance Front, arrives to attend and address a gathering at the tomb of his late father, in Panjshir province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2021.
Neither Massoud nor Khan, both ethnic Tajiks, could immediately be reached for comment. The Taliban are largely ethnic Pashtuns, the majority group in Afghanistan.
The Taliban are under pressure from neighboring countries and the global community at large to promote national political reconciliation and form an inclusive government that respects human rights of all Afghans before the world considers granting legitimacy to the rule in Kabul.
The Islamist group seized power in Afghanistan from the Western-backed government in mid-August after the remaining U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country after almost 20 years. The NRF opposed the power shift and violent clashes have since taken place between the two sides in and around the resistance's stronghold of Panjshir, north of Kabul.
Analyst Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official, welcomed the Iran-hosted talks. "We need Afghanistan's internal tensions to be solved through talks," he said.
"The second and most important part will be for (the) Taliban to open the door for political participation to non-Taliban (groups) at decision-making levels. That will ensure long-term stability in Afghanistan," Farhadi added.
Some analysts remain skeptical about Taliban security assurances, citing an increasing crackdown on the rights of Afghan women and government critics as well as reports of revenge killings of former officials despite a blanket amnesty the group announced after taking control of the country.
"I don't think they (opponents) will trust any Taliban guarantees. The Taliban have a long history of saying one thing and doing another," Jonathan Schroden, who directs the Countering Threats and Challenges Program at the U.S.-based non-profit CNA Corporation, told VOA.
FILE - Former Afghan Cabinet minister and regional governor Ismail Khan speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Herat province, western Afghanistan, Feb. 20, 2019.
"Their actions since taking control of the government-including targeting former members of the ANDSF (acronym for ex-Afghan government forces) in the face of their announced general amnesty and now detaining prominent critics of the regime-are further evidence against a conclusion that they should be trusted," Schroden said.
U.S. officials confirmed in November that the NRF had registered with the Department of Justice to carry out political lobbying in the United States. A State Department spokesperson at the time, however, explained the decision was made by the registrant. The spokesperson said it did not require any further action or approval by the Justice Department or any other U.S. government entity.
The Taliban reject criticism of their policies and maintain that their government represents all Afghans. Taliban leaders have also repeatedly ruled out the possibility of including in the Cabinet any Afghan political figures who had served in U.S.-installed governments over the past 20 years.
No country has recognized the new Kabul government. The Islamist group's return to power led the United States and other Western nations to immediately suspend most non-humanitarian funding for the aid-dependent country and freeze around $9.5 billion worth of Afghan foreign cash reserves.
The punitive measures and long-running international sanctions on Taliban leaders have brought the national economy to the brink of collapse, worsening the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan stemming from years of wars, natural disasters and poverty.
Foreign governments have since been scrambling to work out how to engage the Taliban to scale up humanitarian aid and help in preventing an economic meltdown in the country while avoiding formally recognizing the new government.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said Monday the Taliban visit over the weekend did not constitute Iran's official recognition of the new Kabul government.
Iranian media, however, quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian as criticizing Washington over the frozen cash reserves and demanding they be released to help in improving economic and humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan.