As the Taliban approached Kabul and tens of thousands of people overwhelmed the airport, it was the tiny Gulf state of Qatar that first opened its doors to evacuees, quickly establishing itself as the West’s main line of communication with an organization best known for harboring Osama Bin Laden.
The US and UK have since moved their Afghanistan embassies to Doha, the pivotal role hailed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, both of whom paid a visit this week. But a relationship that has been painstakingly nurtured for the past decade could quickly become a risk to Qatar if it doesn’t give the world the new Taliban it has tried to nurture; one that is more hospitable to women and less hospitable to terrorists on the run.
Qatar’s ties to the Taliban and other Islamist groups have long been a source of tension with its neighbors and concerns for its Western allies. Caught by the near-immediate collapse of the US-backed government as the last US troops left, the Western powers had few other means of contacting the Taliban’s political representatives.
Qatar has enjoyed holding talks with the Taliban, complete with large backdrops and dramatic lighting, and has won the trust of its political leaders. According to a Gulf diplomat, some 500 to 600 Taliban members have lived with their families in cosmopolitan Doha. Among them, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the political wing, who has held talks among the skyscrapers, in five-star hotels where Qatar’s rules of modesty are not strictly adhered to.
That gave the Taliban a platform to recast themselves as more moderate and ready for government through Qatar-based television channel Al Jazeera. And it gave Qatar, which has deftly fostered relations with Iran and Islamist groups while serving as regional headquarters for US military operations, a chance to raise its own status with its key strategic ally.
At a press conference in Doha on Tuesday, Blinken praised Qatar for its assistance in Afghanistan. “For years, at our request, you have facilitated diplomacy between the Taliban and the Afghan government to try and find a peaceful solution to the conflict,” he said.
However, it’s not clear how Qatar will bridge the gap between the image-conscious leaders it houses and the Taliban’s military wing, which is closer to Pakistan, the longtime political broker next door, and sees less need to adapt. .
There is no meeting like with Pakistan, Western diplomats say. The Qataris find even Baradar, who is at odds with the Pakistanis, difficult to deal with, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. And Pakistan is not the only stakeholder. Landlocked Afghanistan is surrounded by powerful neighbors like Iran and China, who have a more direct stake in its fate than distant Qatar.
“Qatar is an important channel between the Taliban and the rest of the world, but it doesn’t exert as much influence on the group as Pakistan does,” said Jane Kinninmont, Middle East analyst at the European Leadership Network.
“Qatar’s relationship with the Taliban has been heavily focused on mediation and international relations. It therefore affects a certain section of the Taliban – those who want to interact with the outside world and have pragmatic relationships that give them access to aid and trade .”
Western governments have said any involvement with the Afghan regime will depend on safe passage out of Kabul and the flow of humanitarian aid, not becoming a haven for terrorist organizations, respecting human rights and forming an inclusive government.
However, there is no evidence that Qatar can influence the Taliban’s approach to the education of women and girls, although Qatar’s ruling family has identified that as a priority.
And while Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has said his country is working with the Taliban and Turkey to restart operations at the Kabul airport, it has yet to convince the Taliban to allow foreign security personnel to remain at the airport. airport, a major bottleneck .
The Qatari government has not responded to a request for comment on its relations with the Taliban.
Aware of its own limitations, Qatar has focused less on trying to change the Taliban’s attitudes and more on using its deep pockets to buy influence in a region of strategic importance to major powers. , said another person familiar with the matter, requesting anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and one of the world’s richest countries. Qatar has both financial clout and lobbying power in Washington that Pakistan does not. That has become more important to the Taliban as Western governments and international organizations are reluctant to support a regime that has yet to prove it’s different from the international pariah of the 1990s.
If Afghanistan once again becomes a haven for terrorists, Qatar’s ties could quickly become a problem.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized for recognizing the Taliban regime of the 1990s, which housed al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. Today, the Gulf’s hereditary rulers largely view any Islamist political movement as a threat to national security and to their own primacy, and view Qatar’s foreign policy with concern.
“Qatar could easily be embarrassed and could distance itself from the Taliban or at least some of its leaders,” Kinninmont said. “Some Taliban members are now using language that appeals internationally, but it’s unclear whether this newfound presentability is much more than a re-branding.”
(This story was not edited by NewsMadura staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)