KABUL -- The government of Afghanistan says it has reached out to neighboring Iran as the Taliban confirmed it had held talks with Iranian officials.
On June 3, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Musazai indicated that Kabul is in close contact with Iranian officials to find out more about a recent visit by a Taliban delegation to Tehran.
"We are looking into these reports [about the Taliban holding talks with Iranian officials] and are contacting Iranian officials to determine whether these reports are true," he said. "We think it is inappropriate to say anything about it before hearing an official response from the Iranian authorities."
Musazai also said Tehran has backed the Afghan government's efforts to launch a peace process with the insurgents.
In a statement issued on June 3, purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the movement's political office met with Iranian officials during the weekend.
According to Ahmadi, some senior Taliban leaders also participated in a religious conference in Tehran.
Deflecting Regional, Global Pressure
Kabul-based Afghan analyst Wahid Mozhdah said that the Taliban have been trying to reach out to Afghanistan's neighbors since 2010 under the leadership of the movement's military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
He said these efforts continued even after Baradar was detained by Pakistan in February 2010.
Mozhdah maintained that after developing contacts with the Taliban, Tehran realized that the movement wants to establish relations independent from Pakistan.
He said some Taliban leaders were participating in conferences in Tehran for the past two years but that it is the first time that the Taliban officially acknowledged their contacts with Iran.
Mozhdah suggested that, by reaching out to the Taliban, Tehran wants to deflect regional and global pressure for backing the Shi'ite regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Iran wants to show the Islamic world that it also backs Sunni factions fighting against America and it has no sectarian motives in supporting regimes and groups engaged in confrontation with the U.S," he said. "In addition, Iran also wants to pressurize Washington by demonstrating that it can retaliate by creating problems in Afghanistan if [Tehran] comes under considerable international pressure."
Past efforts to launch a peace process with the Taliban have sputtered. The movement is claiming responsibility for a major attack in Afghanistan.
The current spring-fighting season is seen as a major test for Afghan forces who are gradually assuming security responsibilities as Western forces look to make an exit next year.
With reporting by AP