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Taliban Holds Talks With Turkmen Officials In Ashgabat Amid Deteriorating Afghan Security

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai (center), who heads the Taliban's political office in Qatar, led the delegation's visit to Ashgabat on July 10. (file photo)
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai (center), who heads the Taliban's political office in Qatar, led the delegation's visit to Ashgabat on July 10. (file photo)

ASHGABAT -- Taliban representatives have visited Ashgabat and held talks with Turkmen Foreign Ministry officials as the militants continue major offensives in northern Afghanistan, raising concerns in the neighboring former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Taliban's spokesman in Qatar, Mohammad Nayeem, told RFE/RL by phone on July 11 that the Taliban delegation visited Ashgabat at Turkmenistan's invitation.

According to Nayeem, the sides discussed "bilateral economic and political ties between the two nations, as well as issues of security and borders."

He did not elaborate.

Several sources close to the Turkmen Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL that the talks were held on July 10 and the Taliban delegation was led by the chief of the Taliban's political office in Qatar, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai.

"The Turkmen side, which invited the Taliban for talks, asked Taliban representatives to keep the talks in Ashgabat a secret. The Turkmen side did not want to irritate the official authorities in Kabul. The major issues discussed at the talks were about not attacking [Turkmen territory] and blocking the possible flow of refugees," one of the sources, who was not authorized to talk to the media, told RFE/RL.

Meanwhile, a senior official at a Turkmen security agency told RFE/RL earlier that more troops from an army garrison near the city of Mary were being sent to bolster border guard units along the Turkmen-Afghan border. Mary is about 400 kilometers north of Serhetabad, a major border crossing with Afghanistan.

Serhetabat, Turkmenistan
Serhetabat, Turkmenistan

In Ashgabat, some reservists were being summoned to military recruiting posts and being told to stay on alert for possible quick deployment, the official said. The orders are so far not nationwide and limited to Ashgabat, he added.

The Turkmen government, which is tightly controlled and highly secretive, has made no announcement of the Taliban delegation's visit to Ashgabat and increased security. Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, have increased warnings to ordinary Turkmen against the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, which are illegal but widely used to circumvent government restrictions on the Internet.

In Mary, whose population is believed to be around 100,000 people, local officials have begun organizing patriotic lectures for public service employees.

On July 10, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting reports by some Russian media about the ongoing situation within the country and the deployment of Turkmen troops along the border with Afghanistan.

"Thanks to the brotherly ties between the two neighboring countries and their peoples, the Turkmen-Afghan border is a border of friendship and cooperation," the Turkmen Foreign Ministry's statement said.

Turkmenistan shares an 800-kilometer border with Afghanistan, where the security situation has deteriorated sharply as Taliban fighters advance on provincial centers and even some border crossings.

Hundreds of Afghans, including soldiers and local police, have reportedly fled into other neighboring Central Asian countries.

Tajik officials last week announced they were sending an additional 20,000 troops to their country's border in response to the Taliban offensive. On July 5, the border guard service reported that more than 1,000 Afghan troops had crossed into Tajikistan over the previous 24 hours.

U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged that the withdrawal of U.S. forces will be completed by the beginning of September. With that deadline nearing, the Taliban has unleashed an offensive and now controls about one-third of the 421 districts and district centers in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, U.S. forces vacated their largest base in Afghanistan at Bagram, north of Kabul.

The rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the Taliban battlefield successes, are stoking concerns that the Western-backed government in Kabul may collapse.