BADGHIS -- More and more surrendering Taliban members are coming forward with claims that foreign actors -- namely Russia and Iran -- have been funding and directing the group's activities.
"Iran, Russia and China were the three countries who were providing us with help," said Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghaffar Tufan.
Tufan was the leader of a group of 50 Taliban militants who recently joined the peace process in Badghis Province, and spoke with Salaam Times at the ceremony.
"We were told to destroy schools and mosques, plant mines and destroy the roads and not to allow any development to take place," he said.
"We were ordered by our top leaders to cause destruction to the highest extent possible," he said. "They would not send us anything had we refused to cause destruction."
Intelligence agencies are investigating these August 11 statements and will share their findings with the central government in Kabul, say military officials in Badghis Province.
Support for the Taliban from Iran and Russia is well documented, but Tufan's claim that China is a new and unverified revelation.
"We cannot deny [that] the intelligence agencies of neighbouring and regional countries are involved in the war and are fanning the flames of insecurity," said Naqibullah Amini, a spokesman for the Badghis provincial police chief.
"Taliban who fight against Afghan forces do not have weapons factories inside Afghanistan; therefore, these weapons definitely come from neighbouring countries," he told Salaam Times.
"Where do the opposition forces acquire all these weapons and ammunition that they use against the Afghan security forces, other than through the support they receive from the intelligence services of neighbouring countries? Naturally, it is a blatant case of interference in [Afghan] affairs," he said.
In February, a group of Taliban militants surrendered to authorities in Herat Province, saying Iran trained and provided them with weapons, and directed them to attack the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and inauguration ceremony.
Only two months later in April, another group of Taliban fighters in Herat opted to disobey Iranian orders to attack the TAPI pipeline and instead surrendered their weapons and joined the Afghan-led peace process.
In May, small groups of the Taliban's "brightest and ablest young fighters" started going to military training camps in Iran.
Russian and Iranian weapons
The handiwork of other countries in creating insecurity in Badghis -- namely, Russian and Iranian weapons provided to the Taliban -- is "a source of concern for residents", said Abdul Aziz Bayk, chairman of the Badghis Provincial Council.
"We hope that the central government sends a competent delegation to Badghis Province, in order to thoroughly examine this issue and to identify all details," he told Salaam Times.
"The aid and support provided to the Taliban by neighbouring and regional countries are alarming," Abdul Razzaq Siddiqi, 28, a civil society activist in Badghis, told Salaam Times.
"We call on the national unity government to stop such cases of interference as soon as possible, especially when it is by countries that are destroying our country and preventing the completion of development projects," he said.
Some countries claiming to be Afghanistan's friends "co-operate with the enemies of the Afghan government, shelter the Taliban on their territory, treat [the Taliban's] wounded, etc.," said Junaydullah Ashkani, 37, another civil society activist in Badghis.
"In the international arena [these countries] call themselves Afghanistan's friends, but in reality they work behind the scenes to undermine the government and the national interests of Afghanistan," he told Salaam Times.
Fatwa encourages Taliban to join peace process
The decision by the Taliban group in Badghis to join the peace process was spurred by the fatwa issued by Muslim scholars declaring the Afghan war haram, according to officials from the Badghis Provincial Peace Committee.
The Taliban have understood that their war is illegitimate and unacceptable by Islam, said Abdul Khalil Achakzai, chairman of the Badghis Provincial Peace Council.
"As much as we try to bring the Taliban together with the government, the neighbouring countries are trying, to the same extent and just as hard, to change the Taliban's mindset, provoking them against the Afghan government and people," he told Salaam Times.
"In fact, they do their best to prevent the Taliban from joining the peace process," he said.
"There is no doubt that neighbouring countries are involved in the Afghan war and that the intelligence services of these countries have caused the mass murder of the Afghan people," he said.
"Some groups are willing to join the peace process; however, they cannot join the government in peace because of the pressure exerted on them by their leaders [who are carrying out foreigners' bidding]."
Interfering in Afghan interests
"There is no doubt that both Russia and Iran interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs," said Abdul Qader Kamel, a political analyst in Herat Province. "The relationship between these countries and Afghanistan is not of a government-to-government nature. Quite the contrary, they invest in terrorist groups and weapons networks in order to secure their own interests in the region."
"Iran and Russia hold a grudge against the United States and are trying to harm US interests in Afghanistan in any possible way," he said, adding that Iran is attempting to retaliate against "mounting pressure put on it by the international community and the United States".
Economic factors also underlie Iran's and Russia's interests in continuing the war in Afghanistan, said Sayed Ashraf Sadaat, a civil society activist in Herat Province.
"Iran and Russia are reportedly involved in smuggling weapons and drugs in Afghanistan," he told Salaam Times. "If the Taliban join the peace process, the war ends. Hence, these countries do not allow insurgent groups to join the peace process."
"Russia has a deeply rooted conflict with Western countries, while Afghanistan, on the contrary, has many treaties with [Western countries]," he said.
"The interests of Iran and Russia favour the continuation of war, as well as continued support for terrorists," he said. "That is why the Taliban and other terrorist groups are fighting against US interests in Afghanistan."