KABUL, Afghanistan

An interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif indicating Tehran’s involvement and interference in Afghanistan has stirred controversy.

Talking to Afghanistan’s private Tolo news broadcaster, Zarif acknowledged some 2,000 Afghans fought alongside pro-regime forces in Syria under the Fatemiyoun brigade, a Shiite militia backed by Tehran.

“In Syria, we were supporting them under the leadership of Hafiz Bashar Assad. He was making decisions and we were implementing them. In Afghanistan, we are prepared to support them [Fatemiyoun] under the leadership of the Afghan government [in the fight against Daesh],” said the Iranian diplomat.

Responding to a question, Zarif told Tolo News “the Taliban has committed many terrorist acts,” and “we have not removed the Taliban [from our list of] terrorist groups.”

The Iranian foreign minister claimed Tehran neither supplies arms to the Taliban and nor treats its wounded militants.

The Taliban through a statement reacted sharply against these remarks.

“The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] is not on any UN terror list and comments by the Iranian Foreign Minister in this regard are based on faulty information. We urge Iranian officials to avoid aggravating Afghan sensitivities with such irresponsible statements,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed.

Kabul-based writer and political commentator Syed Iqbal told Anadolu Agency that Zarif’s views were pretty much in line with the Afghan government’s stance in the troubled peace parley.

“This is without any doubt that like many regional countries. Iran too is engaged in the ongoing proxy war here, but as far as the Afghan government is concerned the only part that was controversial [in the interview] was Zarif’s comments on Fatemiyoun,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Kabul distances itself

Zarif’s comments came as the Afghan government’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Muhib visited Tehran as part of the Kabul government’s regional outreach plan for peace in the war-ravaged country.

Graan Hewad, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Kabul, told Anadolu Agency the Afghan government has ‘contrasting views’. “The Constitution, national interests, and foreign policy of Afghanistan do not permit that Afghan citizens, expect from being under the national flag, to enter regional wars and conflicts in different countries.”

The Human Rights Watch two years back charged Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) with recruiting Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight in Syria for the regime forces.

The watchdog noted in a report that Afghan children in Iran as young as 14 have fought in the Fatemiyoun division, an exclusively Afghan armed group supported by Iran that fights alongside government forces in the Syrian conflict.

The watchdog previously documented cases of Afghan refugees in Iran who “volunteered” to fight in Syria in the hopes of gaining legal status for their families.

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