As fighting rages in Afghanistan, Taliban representatives met an Afghan government delegation in Tehran on Wednesday.
The news was confirmed by the Tehran foreign ministry, as Taliban make massive gains in the war-torn country.
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 “unfavourable results of continuing the conflict in Afghanistan”.
Iran hosts several million Afghan refugees and migrant workers and is deeply concerned about the intensifying turmoil in the neighbouring 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.
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 Taliban’s blistering offensive in the north, a day after more than 1,000 government troops fled into neighbouring Tajikistan.
But on Wednesday, 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 group already control all of the surrounding countryside 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.