Iran condemns attack on Afghan mosque after US-China-Russia-Pakistan talks

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Iran has condemned just days after representatives from the United States, China, Russia and Pakistan met to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, a country plagued by a humanitarian crisis and militant threats.

Wednesday’s blast injured up to six people as worshipers finished midday prayers at the Pul-e-Khishti Mosque in a crowded neighborhood of the Afghan capital. So far, no group or individual has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban-led Afghan Interior Ministry said it had detained a suspect at the scene and brought him in for questioning.

The incident follows a series of deadly mosque bombings, many by Shia Muslim denominations, alleged by the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS-K) late last year, prompting particular outrage from neighboring Iran.

And while the Pul-e-Khishti Mosque is mostly attended by Sunni Muslims, Tehran’s embassy in Kabul nevertheless issued a statement saying it “condemns the use of terrorist methods that threaten the security of the Afghan people, including of today’s terrorist attack at Kabul’s Pul-e-Khishti Mosque, which appears to have injured a number of fasting people.”

Though Iran has historically opposed the Taliban, it has sought to gain a foothold with the group since taking over the country last August, when the US military withdrew from a two-decade war in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, the Iranian embassy welcomed the Taliban’s announcement that it would restrict the sale of narcotics in the opium-rich nation. It announced Tehran was ready to cooperate on agriculture, just days after Iran’s special envoy for Afghanistan Hassan Kazemi Qomi said the Taliban had agreed to share his country’s water supply under a decades-old deal that was often a source of strife between the two peoples.

Qomi made the remarks after attending a meeting in China held between regional countries that included officials from Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The conference was one of several international gatherings to address the ongoing issues in Afghanistan, the most recent of which was in an “enhanced troika” format between China, Russia, Pakistan and the US

A Taliban fighter stands guard, armed with an M249 light machine gun likely provided by the US military to the now-defunct Afghan National Army, as Muslim supporters enter the Pul-e-Khishti mosque in Kabul September 3 after Friday prayers leave 2021. The newly formed Islamic Emirate has sought to stem attacks from rival forces, particularly ISIS-K, since taking over the country last August.
HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP/Getty Images

The meeting was notable as it provided a rare forum of interaction between the US and its biggest enemies China and Russia, especially after the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, launched last month amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington.

The war, now approaching its seventh week, and the humanitarian crisis it has provoked in Europe, have drawn international attention while Afghanistan continues to suffer from its own series of overlapping crises, including economic collapse and a lack of basic services since the Taliban takeover.

Adding to Afghanistan’s financial distress, the US has seized up to $7.1 billion in frozen Afghan funds, of which it has announced plans to allocate at least half to the victims of the September 11 attacks, which it used as a pretext for the US -War in the country served in 2001.

Although the al-Qaeda militant group was operating in Afghanistan at the time of the attack, none of the perpetrators were Afghans themselves, and the US plan has sparked mass protests from all sectors of Afghan society, including those opposed to the Taliban’s restrictive rule .

State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed last week that US special envoy for Afghanistan Tom West attended the “enlarged troika” meeting in the Chinese city of Tunxi. He said the interests of all four countries involved are “aligned” on Afghanistan and this “includes the need to get girls back into secondary education and to promote inclusive governance.”

The Taliban had vowed to respect women’s right to education, something the ultra-conservative group constrained when the Islamic Emirate ruled the country from 1996 until US-led intervention five years later. But when schools opened late last month, female students seeking a second degree said they were turned away, sparking an outcry at home and abroad.

Price said the US is seeking support from other countries to ensure the Taliban stick to their commitment to women’s education.

“We want to ensure that these are messages that the Taliban receive not just from us, not just from our European partners with whom we coordinate closely on Afghanistan and engagement with the Taliban, but also from a broader collection of countries, and certainly those countries that have a lot of leverage,” he said.

Expanded, Troika, Pakistan, Russia, China, USA
Special Envoys Mohammad Sadiq of Pakistan, Zamir Kabulov of Russia, Yue Xiaoyong of China and Thomas West of the United States appear during their gathering for the “enhanced troika” meeting March 31 in Tunxi, Anhui province. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that all four countries “have significant influence over the Taliban” and “it is incumbent on all of these countries to use that influence to nudge the Taliban in the right direction.”
Pakistani Foreign Ministry

The day after the meeting, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement saying, “The four sides agreed that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the common interest of the international community. Afghanistan should not become a place for geopolitical rivalry, but a platform for international cooperation.” The statement “reiterated its firm support for the Afghan people and stressed that more humanitarian aid will be provided to Afghanistan.”

The meeting also focused on concerns about the ongoing instability sparked by attacks such as the one that would take place on the Pul-e-Khishti Mosque the following week.

“All parties in Afghanistan are called upon to achieve national reconciliation through substantive dialogue and negotiations, and to work towards a broader, more inclusive and more unified political architecture in Afghanistan in the future,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said at the time. “The four sides stressed that various terrorist forces entrenched in Afghanistan continue to pose a threat to the security of the region, and called on the relevant Afghan parties to take more visible measures to fulfill their counter-terrorism commitments and target all types of terrorist groups smash and eliminate. “

Also present at the meeting was a Taliban representative, Acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum Sheikh Shahabuddin Delawar. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the participating nations had “promised that all their efforts will serve the stability of Afghanistan and the region, and that Afghanistan’s isolation is not in anyone’s interest.”

Delawar is also reported to have urged the other representatives to help Afghanistan rather than apply additional pressure, as “international cooperation will enable Afghanistan to play an important role in regional prosperity as a self-sufficient and competitive country.”

And he is said to have repeated the promise that “Afghanistan’s soil will not be used to the detriment of any country and no one from its soil will harm regional and world stability,” the core tenet of the February 2020 peace deal signed by the Taliban and the US signed by then-President Donald Trump.

While U.S. troops have long since left Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Friday that the Pentagon’s Central Command mission still includes “our over-the-horizon efforts in Afghanistan with the help of our partners.”

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