In a first direct rebuke of the Taliban since the group took control of the Afghan capital Kabul last month, Iran on Monday termed developments in the besieged Panjshir valley as “worrying”.
Speaking to reporters in Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh strongly denounced violence in the northern Afghan valley, where two senior figures of the group resisting the Taliban were killed.
Fighting between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front (NDF) led by Ahmed Massoud, the son of former anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, took an ugly turn on Sunday after the Taliban made inroads into the valley.
In the ensuing clashes, NDF spokesman Fahim Dashti and General Abdul Wadud Zara, a former aide to Ahmed Shah Massoud, were killed by the Taliban.
Referring to them as “martyrs”, Khatibzadeh termed their killings as “unfortunate.”
Responding to reports about Pakistan helping the Taliban in its attack on the Hindu Kush valley, which has traditionally been an anti-Taliban fortress, the spokesman said they are “investigating” reports about the presence of foreign forces in the valley.
“We condemn any foreign interference in Afghanistan,” he asserted, adding that the issue must be resolved through “dialogue and mediation of Afghan elders.”
He also criticized the blockade imposed on Panjshir province, depriving Afghan civilians of food, water, and electricity.
It is the first and clearest rebuke of the militant group by Tehran, as both sides have in recent years developed close contacts.
Although the new Iranian government has not yet signaled whether it will be recognizing the new political dispensation in Kabul, many Iranian officials have in recent weeks called for a peaceful transfer of power and the formation of an inclusive government.
There are also reports that the Taliban has invited Iran for the swearing-in ceremony of the new government, but Tehran has not officially acknowledged it yet.
Iran’s stance on the anti-Taliban resistance in Panjshir, however, could throw a spanner in relations between the two sides, experts believe.
“It is clearly a position that might create bad blood between the two sides, especially Iran referring to those killed by the Taliban as martyrs,” Rohullah Nowruzi, a strategic affairs analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
“But then there is a history of Iran supporting the anti-Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan.”
Javad Heirannia, a political commentator on regional affairs, said Iran’s critical statement was meant to “calm the public opinion” in Iran, especially elites, who oppose the Taliban and support the Panjshiri resistance.
“Some elites warn the Iranian government to maintain the Panjshir Resistance Front as a lever against the Taliban so that if the Taliban does not fulfill its promises to Iran, it will have leverage in the future,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Pertinently, Iran had been a strong supporter of the Panjshir-based Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud in the 1990s, when it was fighting the Taliban.
Tehran even backed the American invasion of the country in 2001 and the overthrow of the Taliban government.
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