External affairs minister with Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif

India and Iran have expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and called for strengthening intra-Afghan dialogue to find a comprehensive political solution against the backdrop of the drawdown of US and international forces

The situation in Afghanistan figured in external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s meeting with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif in Tehran on Wednesday. Jaishankar also met president-elect Ayatollah Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi when he made a transit halt in the Iranian capital while travelling to Russia.

Jaishankar’s stopover in Tehran coincided with a meeting in Tehran between an Afghan government delegation and Taliban representatives that was arranged by the Iranian government. This was the first formal contact between the two sides since talks in Qatar stalled several months ago.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday the Indian and Iranian sides exchanged views on regional and global issues during Jaishankar’s technical halt in Tehran. “They also discussed the evolving situation in Afghanistan and expressed concerns over the deteriorating security there,” he said.

A statement issued by Iran’s foreign ministry said the two sides “stressed the need to strengthen intra-Afghan dialogue in Afghanistan which leads to a comprehensive political solution”. The statement added that Jaishankar referred to the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Tehran, and “thanked Iran for its efforts to bring the two sides closer to a comprehensive political solution”.

Western security officials have said the Taliban have captured more than 100 districts in Afghanistan, while the insurgents claim to hold more than 200 districts in 34 provinces. Main cities and provincial capitals remain under the control of government forces.

India, which has been keeping a wary eye on the fighting, has said its embassy in Kabul and consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif are currently functional. However, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that officials are closely tracking the extremely fluid situation and plans are being framed to cater for all contingencies, including the evacuation of Indian nationals and diplomats.

Bagchi said, “We are carefully monitoring the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its implications on the safety and security of Indian nationals in Afghanistan. Our response will be calibrated accordingly.”

The spokesperson further said India and Iran also discussed joint connectivity initiatives in the region, such as the International North-South Transport Corridor and Chabahar port. Jaishankar “reiterated India’s interests in the region and support for efforts to maintain peace, security and stability”, he added.

Jaishankar also handed over a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Iranian president-elect.

Iran’s foreign ministry said Jaishankar and Zarif discussed the “prospects for the Vienna talks” on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran nuclear deal, and cooperation in transport and communications, including the Chabahar port, to promote convergence in the region.

Since the US pulled out of the JCPOA under the former Trump administration, India has consistently backed a negotiated settlement of the issue.