ISLAMABAD - Afghan and Taliban representatives are speaking of progress toward peace and promising further talks after two days of dialogue in Tehran between a senior Taliban delegation and representatives of the Kabul government.
Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, called the talks that ended Thursday "substantive," tweeting: "As foreign forces leave Afghanistan, no impediment remains for Afghans of all political stripes to chart a peaceful & prosperous future for the next generation."
Honored to be host of cordial & substantive dialog between senior Afghan reps.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) July 7, 2021
As foreign forces leave Afghanistan, no impediment remains for Afghans of all political stripes to chart a peaceful & prosperous future for the next generation.
Iran stands with our Afghan brethren. pic.twitter.com/nABlJfdXaP
In a six-point joint statement issued by Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem, the two sides agreed that continuing the war was dangerous for the country and all efforts must be made to find a peaceful solution.
They also condemned attacks on civilian sites like homes, schools, mosques and hospitals, as well as "strongly condemning the destruction of public facilities," demanding perpetrators be punished.
The two sides also announced they would hold another meeting to discuss other issues, such as "establishing a mechanism for the transition from war to permanent peace, or the agreed Islamic system and how to achieve it." The time and place for the next meeting was not announced.
Afghanistan's foreign ministry welcomed the meeting and said it hoped it will "lead to an end to the violence and the start of serious negotiations aimed at ensuring lasting peace in the country."
The Taliban delegation was led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the deputy leader of the Taliban negotiation team based in Doha, Qatar.
The Afghan delegation was led by former vice president Yunus Qanuni and included people close to President Ashraf Ghani, former president Hamid Karzai, Marshall Abdul Rashid Dostum, and others.
Michael O'Hanlon of the Washington-based Brookings Institution said Iran, as a next-door neighbor, is seeking "some degree of stability" in Afghanistan, especially since chaos could result in millions of refugees at its door.
He said, though, he doubted the efforts would yield results.
"I just don't see the Taliban being in a mood to negotiate, regardless of where peace talks may be held, regardless of who may be the host," he said.
O'Hanlon said the Taliban are unlikely to make a power-sharing agreement at a point when they believe they are about to win on the battlefield.
"I think the Taliban want to look as if they're giving peace a chance, but they're really going to rely on war," he said.
Iran's foreign ministry called the talks in Tehran "The Intra-Afghan Dialogue Summit." The semantics are important since the only official negotiations between the Taliban and an Afghan government-sanctioned team are happening in Doha. Those are called the "intra-Afghan negotiations."
All other meetings between Taliban and other Afghans — and there have been multiple in various countries across the region over several years — are called dialogues. These efforts are similar to what is called track 1.5 or track 2 in diplomacy.
"The meeting that took place in Tehran is a complementary initiative to the main track of talks, which is based in Doha," said Gran Hewad, the Afghan foreign ministry's spokesman.
He voiced skepticism, however, on whether anything meaningful was happening at the negotiations in Doha.
"The last meeting that they could call a 1st track, on-the-record meeting was something that none of the parties have announced because it's been missing for a long time," he said.
The regional diplomacy is happening at a time when the United States already has withdrawn 90 percent of its troops and equipment from Afghanistan, according to U.S. Central Command. President Joe Biden said Thursday the remaining troops will be home by the end of August.
"That job had been over for some time and quite frankly overdue," he said.
The withdrawal of foreign forces has been accompanied by battlefield victories by the Taliban, who seem to have focused their energy in the country's north.
Late Thursday, the Associated Press reported the Taliban had seized a key border crossing with Iran called Islam Qala in Western Herat province.
AP quoted Iranian media as reporting that Afghan soldiers on the border fled to Iran for refuge.
A few days ago, more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers retreated into Tajikistan amid clashes as the Taliban seized that border.
According to Reuters, the six-nation Russian-led military bloc Collective Security Treaty Organization said Thursday it was ready to mobilize all of its resources if the situation on the border of Tajikistan did not stabilize.
Meanwhile, a Taliban delegation landed Thursday in Moscow and met with Zamir Kabulov, the Russian special envoy for Afghanistan, apparently to reassure Russia that the border skirmishes would not spill into Russia's backyard.
"The [Taliban delegation] reaffirmed its position that the territory of Afghanistan will not be used against anyone," Taliban spokesman Naeem tweeted. He also said diplomats, embassy employees, and those working for charities should continue without fear.
White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report, some information from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this report.