According to international media sources an Afghan government delegation met with Taliban representatives in Tehran on Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry said, as the Islamist militia pressed a lightning advance amid the pullout of US troops.
Opening the Tehran talks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the departure of its US foe from its eastern borders but warned: “Today the people and political leaders of Afghanistan must make difficult decisions for the future of their country.”
Leading negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai headed the Taliban delegation while former vice president Younus Qanooni represented the government, the Iranian ministry said.
Zarif hailed the “defeat” of US troops after two decades of war that had caused “extensive damage” but warned of the “unfavorable results of continuing the conflict in Afghanistan”.
It must be mentioned that Iran hosts several million Afghan refugees and migrant workers and is deeply concerned about the intensifying turmoil in the neighboring country.
Zarif appealed to the warring parties in Afghanistan to return to the negotiating table, calling “commitment to political solutions the best choice for Afghanistan’s leaders and political movements”.
“We are proud to have stood alongside our noble Afghan brothers and sisters during the jihad against the foreign occupiers,” he added, in a video excerpt of his speech released by the ministry.
More than 1,000 Afghan troops fled into neighboring Tajikistan on Monday following clashes with the Taliban, as the insurgents amassed momentum on the battlefield, France24 wrote.
The withdrawal of troops followed another weekend of fighting across much of the northern countryside where the Taliban have overrun dozens of districts, spurring fears that Afghan forces are in crisis.
“They did not want to surrender. They had asked for reinforcements, but their call was ignored,” said Abdul Basir, a soldier based with a battalion in Badakhshan province that had members flee over the border.
Tajikistan’s national security committee claimed that 1,037 Afghan government troops had fled into the ex-Soviet country “to save their lives” after clashes with the Taliban during the night.
“Taking into account the principle of good neighborliness and adhering to the position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, the military personnel of the Afghan government forces were allowed to enter Tajik territory,” said the statement, published by Tajikistan’s state information agency.
Following this development on Tuesday, Afghan authorities vowed to retake all the districts lost to the Taliban as the pullout of US forces neared completion.
Hundreds of commandos were deployed to counter the insurgents’ blistering offensive in the north, however, the Taliban attacked the Badghis provincial capital Qalat-i-Naw, the first regional seat they have entered since the launch of their latest offensive, local officials said.
The insurgents already control all of the surrounding countrysides in the western province.
The US Central Command meanwhile announced that the American withdrawal from the country, ordered in April by President Joe Biden, was now more than 90 percent complete, underscoring that Afghan forces are increasingly on their own in the battle with the Taliban.
On the other hand, the US announced last Friday that it had handed over Bagram Air Base — the center of its operations — to Afghan security forces, effectively wrapping up operations in the country following nearly two decades of fighting.
Why are troops withdrawing?
According to a report by TRT World, a Turkish media agency, the Afghan forces are abandoning their posts, despite the constant rejection of this claim by the Afghan government.
Talking to TRT, an Afghan Political Analyst Obaidullah Baheer explained that the Taliban forces are using two main tactics to persuade Afghan troops that a willing surrender is a safe option for them.
The first tactic used is that the Taliban are in direct contact with the forces, and promise them a safe passage if they surrender, and what’s more, they even offer the troops allowance to return to their homelands.
“They [soldiers] are given some allowances and change of clothes and they are let go,” Baheer told TRT. The Taliban is using social media very efficiently and recording those incidents where troops surrendered to the armed group, adds the analyst.
Secondly, the analyst told TRT that the Taliban are using the district councils composed of elders to negotiate the surrender of Afghan troops, with the pledge that the latter will not fight the former again.
CEO of Institute of War and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based think tank, Enayat Najafizada told TRT that these elders are mainly from Hezb-I Islami, a militarized Afghan political party.
Najafizada claims, “According to reports, these elders went to some of the checkpoints of Afghan security forces, asking them not to fight.” He added that they were challenging Afghan security forces with questions like “why are you fighting?” and “who are you defending actually?”
It is worth mentioning that the government is claiming that this is a tactical retreat. Baheer says, it “… makes sense if you are fighting a guerilla force that enjoys its mobility and hit-and-run tactics. When you force them to come out and hold territory, then, they lose that advantage of mobility, and you can hit them hard.”
However, it is no lie that the Taliban have made significant progress. According to the map published by France24, they have significant control over the country, especially in the border regions of Afghanistan.
Writing for GVS, Pakistani war hero Lt. General Tariq Khan said, “The Taliban now want to wrest total control and there is no one to stop them. There is also an element of vindication in an ethnic as well as the ideological conflict that can only end when the last man standing is finally down from either one of the sides or Afghanistan, is divided to accommodate both warring parties.”
He added, “This is the nature of the civil war that is likely to unfold and there is nothing that can stop it, moderate it, or influence it.”