Iran facilitates Afghan peace talks

July 10, 2021 - 22:5

TEHRAN – With the Taliban taking over Afghan cities and districts one after another, a number of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, moved to hedge their bets and establish contacts with both warring sides in the war-torn country. 

This pragmatic policy was necessitated by the fact that the U.S. left Afghanistan without taking care about what might take place once its troops are moved out of the country. After two decades of heavy military presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. clumsily left the country even though its intelligence community presciently predicted that Afghanistan is susceptible to falling in the hands of the Taliban in few months after the withdrawal of foreign troops.

 The U.S. policy toward Afghanistan was best indicated by its unusual withdrawal from the Bagram base, the sprawling military facility housing foreign troops over the past two decades. The U.S. had a whole host of military equipment and troops stationed there for years and almost all U.S. presidents since the invasion of Afghanistan had paid a visit to this base. 

Last week on Friday, the U.S. announced that it vacated its largest airfield of Bagram in Afghanistan. Afghan officials have lamented the way the U.S. left. They said that the U.S. left Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years by shutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, according to press reports.

 “We [heard] some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally by 7:00 in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s new commander, told The Associated Press.

“They (Americans) are completely out now and everything is under our control, including watchtowers, air traffic and the hospital,” a senior Afghan government official told the Reuters news agency.

Afghan soldiers are deeply critical of how the U.S. left Bagram. “In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area,” said Afghan soldier Naematullah, who asked that only his one name be used.

This irresponsible act of the U.S. left the Afghan government’s forces scrambling to protect the airbase against the Taliban, whose forces reportedly mounted an attack on Bagram hours after it was evacuated.

The way Bagram was evacuated also sent a message that the U.S. no longer cares about what might happen to its allies in Kabul, who found themselves on the defensive against the Taliban. As expected, the Taliban intensified its attacks on a number of cities and border crossings. They conquered many cities and at least three border crossings with Tajikistan and Iran, pushing hundreds of Afghan troops to seek refuge in neighboring countries. 

Over the past few days, videos circulated on social media that showed Taliban militants taking over the Islam Qala and Abu Nasr Farahi border crossings along Iran-Afghanistan borders, a move that led to Afghan staff fleeing to Iran, whose authorities confirmed that Afghan staff entered Iranian territories due to clashes between the Taliban and the Afghan government. 

“Considering the clashes that erupted at the Islam-Qala and Abu Nasr Farahi customs facilities inside the Afghan territory, a number of Afghan staff members entered into the Iranian soil,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement. He pointed out that Iran will take the necessary measures according to the rules and regulations and based on its border agreements with Afghanistan and within the framework of good neighborliness principle.

Iranian media outlets quoted sources in the military as saying that Iran is preparing a flight to Kabul at the request of the Afghan government to return the staff and troops. 

Facing turmoil in neighboring Afghanistan, Iran tried to broker peace by getting the warring sides of Afghanistan to sit together at the table and discuss ways to put an end to hostilities. 

To this end, Iran hosted a meeting between a Taliban delegation and a group of figures who support the republican system on Wednesday and Thursday. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who led the talks, urged both sides to show courage in making peace. 

“Courage in peace is more important than courage in war, because peace needs sacrifice and forgiveness, needs ignoring one's maximal demands, and paying attention to the other side's demands, especially in these talks where there is no other side, and both sides are brothers seeking peace and calm for the Afghan nation,” Zarif told the Afghan participants. 

The Iranian foreign minister added, “What I ask you is that use this opportunity and end the war in Afghanistan as soon as possible, and provide the Afghan people with the chance to develop.”

He also voiced Iran’s readiness to facilitate peace talks. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is always ready to facilitate your talks in any way you prefer,” he pointed out.

The recent talks were the second time Iran officially host a delegation from the Taliban, a group with which Iran has avoided talking given its track record of bad relations with Iran when it was in power. The history of Iran-Taliban relations carries a lot of antagonistic baggage, most notably due to the group’s anti-Shia leanings and its killing of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, which brought Iran and the Taliban-led Afghanistan close to an all-out war. 

But now the Taliban is part of the reality on the ground and Iran has said that the group cannot be ignored, though it should not be seen as the whole reality either. According to this assessment, Iran has done everything in its power to bring peace to its war-torn neighbor and it has the support of Pakistan in this regard. Now, it's up to the Afghan people and leaders to decide which path they want to tread. 

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