TEHRAN: Iran on Wednesday hosted the first significant talks in months between Taliban and Afghan government representatives, a surprise meeting that comes as the US completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan and districts fall to the Taliban across the country.
The high-level peace talks between the warring sides follow months-old discussions in Qatar that have been stalled by a diplomatic stalemate and escalating violence. Even as officials faced each other across vast tables in Tehran and Iran’s top diplomat pledged to end the crisis, fighting surged in Afghanistan’s western Badghis province.
The Taliban political committee, led by chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, flew from Doha to Iran’s capital to meet Afghan government officials, including former Vice President Younus Qanooni and others from the High Council for National Reconciliation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif greeted the delegates, urging them to take difficult decisions today for the future of their country,” state-run media reported.
After the failure of the US in Afghanistan, Zarif said, Iran stands ready to assist the dialogue and to resolve the current conflicts in the country.” Returning to the inter-Afghan negotiation table and committing to political solutions is the best choice, he added.After a two-decade-long military campaign, the US military announced on Tuesday that 90pc of American troops and equipment had already left the country, with the drawdown set to finish by late August. Last week, US officials definitively vacated the countrys biggest airfield, Bagram Air Base, the epicentre of the war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the Al Qaeda perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
The Taliban have made relentless territorial wins since April, when President Joe Biden announced the last 2,500-3,500 US soldiers and 7,000 allied Nato soldiers would depart Afghanistan. With their victories in northern and southern Afghanistan, the Taliban are escalating pressure on provincial cities and gaining control of key transportation routes.
Afghanistan’s uncertain path toward peace bears profound consequences for Iran, its western neighbour, which hosts hundreds of thousands of undocumented Afghans. Fears have grown in Iran over a wave of Afghans seeking refuge in the country, which already is struggling to stem worsening poverty under tough US sanctions.
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2021