Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
October 13, 2021
Anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Masud briefly visited Dushanbe for Afghan peace talks — sponsored by Tajikistan and Pakistan — but Taliban representatives failed to attend, sources close to the Tajik government told RFE/RL.
Three sources told RFE/RL that Masud’s trip to Dushanbe took place shortly after Tajik President Emomali Rahmon said on September 17 that his country would host negotiations between the new Afghan rulers and Masud’s predominantly ethnic Tajik resistance force based in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Province.
“We have agreed to facilitate negotiations between the Taliban and the [ethnic] Tajiks [in Afghanistan],” Rahmon announced at a press conference with visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The sources in Dushanbe told RFE/RL on October 6 that Masud arrived in Dushanbe “from Panjshir three days after Khan’s visit to Tajikistan.” Khan’s two-day official visit to Dushanbe coincided with a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit that began on September 16.
According to the officials, Masud’s trip to Tajikistan “lasted only a day and a half” and that he “returned to Afghanistan” after it became clear no Taliban representatives were coming to Dushanbe.
The officials said Dushanbe was assured by Pakistani authorities that the Taliban had agreed to send representatives to Dushanbe to meet Masud. The officials in Dushanbe spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
‘Historic Step’ Not Taken?
Both Tajikistan and Pakistan said joint efforts to help bring peace and stability to neighboring Afghanistan were high on the agenda of the talks between the two leaders. Rahmon especially insisted on the formation of an “inclusive government” and the protection of the “interests of ethnic Tajiks and other minorities” in Afghanistan.
Upon his return to Islamabad, Khan said he contacted the Taliban to convey the messages from Rahmon and other regional leaders he met in Dushanbe. “After [meetings] in Dushanbe with leaders of Afghanistan’s neighbors [and] especially a lengthy discussion with…Rahmon, I have initiated a dialogue with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan [government] to include Tajiks, [Hazara], and Uzbeks,” Khan tweeted on September 18.
Pakistani Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that Khan and Rahmon were ready to play a role in bringing the Taliban and ethnic Tajiks closer, Pakistani media reported. He described the announcement of possible talks with the Taliban in Dushanbe as a “historic step.”
But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told RFE/RL on October 6 that the Taliban government “hasn’t received such information so far.”
Masud’s spokesman didn’t respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment. But Masud has repeatedly expressed his readiness for peace talks with the Taliban.
Masud — the son of legendary Afghan politician and anti-Soviet resistance commander Ahmad Shah Masud — announced the creation of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan a day after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15.
Hundreds of people were killed in battles between the resistance forces and the Taliban in Masud’s native Panjshir before most of the province finally fell to the Taliban in early September, the last province to come under Taliban control. The Taliban says the resistance has been defeated but Masud supporters insist the anti-Taliban opposition forces continue to resist and there are reports of sporadic fighting.
Tajikistan has accused Taliban fighters of carrying out killings in Panjshir and denying the residents of the predominantly ethnic Tajik region access to food and electricity and of shutting down the Internet there.
Tajikistan is the only Central Asian country that hasn’t sent officials or diplomats to meet with Taliban officials since the hard-line Islamist group formed a government in Afghanistan. Rahmon has refused to recognize any government in Afghanistan that undermines the “interests” of ethnic minorities.
Rahmon’s criticism and comments on Afghanistan have even prompted the Taliban government’s acting deputy head, Abdul Ghani Baradar, to accuse Tajikistan of interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
Tajikistan and the Taliban-led Afghanistan have held several military parades in border regions amid rising tensions in recent weeks.
Tajik officials deny a Taliban claim that Masud and former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh are based in Tajikistan. However, several other senior Afghan resistance figures — including Abdul Latif Pedram — have been based in Dushanbe since the collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul in August.
Masud’s paternal uncle, Ahmad Wali Masud, was also visiting Dushanbe in early October.