TEHRAN (Iran News) – The Iranian Foreign Ministry has expressed concerns over the rapid escalation of the war in neighboring Afghanistan as the Taliban took over the province of Herat where Iranian diplomats still work in the Iranian consulate.
Spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh issued a statement on Friday as media outlets broke the news that the Taliban have captured Herat and Kandahar, the third- and second-largest cities of Afghanistan respectively. In Herat, the situation aroused concerns in Iran because Iranian diplomats are still stationed in the province.
Expressing concerns over the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Khatibzadeh called for the protection of the lives of civilians. The spokesman also called on the Taliban to ensure the complete security and health of diplomats and diplomatic facilities, given the insurgent group’s takeover of Herat.
Khatibzadeh also said that the Iranian Foreign Ministry is in continued contact with Iran’s consulate-general in Herat and is following the safety and health of its diplomats in the diplomatic center.
Earlier on Thursday night, a senior diplomat at the Iranian Foreign Ministry announced that Herat fell to the Taliban. “Management of Herat has been handed over to the forces of the Islamic Emirate. Consul-General, diplomats, and the staff of the Islamic Republic of Iran consulate-general are inside the building. We are in constant contact with them. The forces in charge of administering the city have committed to complete safety of the consulate-general, diplomats, and staff,” Director-General of the Foreign Ministry’s South Asian Affairs Seyyed Rasoul Mousavi said on Twitter.
On Friday, Mousavi reassured journalists that “our diplomats, like those of the other three countries present in Herat, are in full safety and security. And they are not worried.”
Taliban have rapidly advanced in many cities of Afghanistan, overrunning as many as 15 provincial capitals. The rapid advancement of the Taliban prompted many countries such as the United States and Canada to contemplate contingency plans for evacuating their diplomats from Kabul. But Iran, thanks in part to its diplomatic contacts with the Taliban seems to be sure that its diplomats would be safe and secure even after the Taliban takeover. This may explain why Iran decided to maintain its diplomats in Herat.
Iran has had contacts with almost all Afghan stakeholders and played host to at least one round of intra-Afghan peace talks. It also held talks with the Taliban in an effort to hear their views on the future of Afghanistan. Iran has always underlined the need to form an all-inclusive government in Afghanistan, one that would include representatives from the Taliban and the Kabul-based Afghan government.
In recent months, Iran embarked on active diplomacy to bring peace to Afghanistan. This included talks with both sides of the conflict. Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks with UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan Jean Arnault, who had traveled to Tehran along with a delegation to exchange views with Iranian Foreign Ministry officials, according to a separate statement by the ministry.
In the Sunday meeting, Zarif touched upon the dire situation in Afghanistan and the growing complexity of the circumstances in the country, dismissing foreign powers’ inappropriate policies as one of the root causes of the current situation in Afghanistan.
He expressed Iran’s readiness to help with and facilitate negotiations among Afghan sides in order to advance the peace process in Afghanistan.
The foreign minister said intra-Afghan talks are the only solution to the problems facing the country.
“The international community should adopt a straightforward stance to support a political settlement of the crisis in Afghanistan and condemn violence and its consequences,” Zarif pointed out.
The UN envoy, in turn, stressed the importance of the role of Iran and other regional countries in helping move forward with the peace trend in Afghanistan.
He said no country or a limited number of countries alone will be able to change the current situation in Afghanistan, adding only collective cooperation can defuse the situation in the country.
He emphasized intra-Afghan talks as the only way to tackle the current situation in the country, and described his negotiations in Tehran as fruitful and significant.
Earlier this month, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, the Iranian foreign minister’s special envoy for Afghanistan affairs, had a phone conversation with Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar.
In the phone call, the two sides conferred on the latest developments in Afghanistan.
The two sides also discussed the significance of the ongoing Afghan peace processes, especially the continuation of intra-Afghan talks in Tehran.
Also on Tuesday, Mousavi held talks with some European ambassadors and charge d’affaires residing in Tehran over the ongoing Afghanistan crisis, IRNA reported. He underlined that if the European countries want to take any step for peace in Afghanistan, today is the time to act. Tomorrow will be too late, he noted.
Mousavi said that the key message of his talks with the European envoys was that “time is rapidly wasting away.”
“If Europe wants to do something for peace in Afghanistan, it must act today, tomorrow is too late,” the Iranian diplomat said.
He stressed that effective steps must be taken for peace in Afghanistan before the collapse of all structures.
During his last press briefing, Khatibzadeh voiced “deep concern” over continued clashes in neighboring Afghanistan as the internecine war between the Afghan government and the Taliban continued to rage on.
Speaking at his weekly press briefing on Monday, Khatibzadeh said, “Iran is deeply concerned about the developments in Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic of Iran has always considered the security of Afghanistan as its own security and has used all its facilities and capacities to contribute to the peace, stability, and tranquility of Afghanistan at bilateral, regional, and international levels.”
He added, “In this context, we are ready and willing to pursue the Tehran Peace Initiative to form an inclusive government in a genuine intra-Afghan dialogue, including all the groups that exist in Afghanistan today.”
The spokesman also called on Afghanistan’s neighbors to hold regular and structured dialogue in order to coordinate their efforts, manage the humanitarian issue of war-displaced people, prevent the geography of Afghanistan from being exploited by extremist groups, and help end the war, bloodshed, and fratricide.
Khatibzadeh said Iran is ready to facilitate and play host to such a dialogue.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has hosted millions of its own Afghan brothers and sisters for the past four decades and has never had anything but a kinship view of the Afghan people, and this humane view has always existed and will continue, God willing,” he pointed out.
The Taliban have adopted a different war strategy in their advancements. The first indication of this shift emerged on August 6 when mainstream media outlets broke the news that the Taliban have captured the first provincial capital in southwestern Afghanistan. On that day, Zaranj, the capital of the southern province of Nimruz, fell to the Taliban without any fighting.
Rouh Gul Khairzad, deputy governor of Nimruz, confirmed the news, saying that the Taliban took Zaranj from government forces without fighting, something that delivered a strong blow to the morale of the Afghan government troops and unleashed a series of military campaigns by the Taliban that led to the conquest of many other provincial capitals across the war-torn country.
Recent advancements of the Taliban were indicative of their new strategy. The group intensified crusade in May but largely remained focused on rural areas and small cities, delaying the battle for provincial capitals until the proper time. Now, it seems that the Taliban think the time has come for them to gradually take over the major cities. They are currently going after provincial capitals one after another with Kabul is more likely to be the last and biggest battle.