Qatar defends dialogue with the Taliban

Doha remains a key ally of the Taliban as it defends its interests

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani

The start of the new session of the UN General Assembly was marked by a number of topical issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis. Afghanistan, due to the current situation and recent events, has also been an issue that has been very present in the first speeches and debates of this new stage that the UN is inaugurating.

The Asian country has been mentioned directly or indirectly by most of the main world leaders. While Recep Tayyip Erdogan alluded to the Afghan refugees to explain the serious migratory situation in Turkey, Joe Biden spoke of opening a "new era of diplomacy" after putting an end to "a period of unstoppable war". Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's new president, also made reference to Afghanistan to attack the United States.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, addressed all world representatives directly on the current Afghan situation. "In coordination with our international partners, we will continue to do everything necessary to ensure that the tangible achievements made within the Doha path are maintained. It is necessary that the parties honour their commitments," said Al Thani. 

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AFP/KARIM JAAFAR - US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sign the agreement in Doha.

Qatar was at the centre of negotiations between the US and the Taliban that culminated in the Doha Agreement under which foreign troops would be withdrawn in return for the Taliban severing their links to terrorism. Qatar has also served the Taliban as a diplomatic base.

The Qatari emir urged the international community to engage in dialogue with the Taliban. "Boycotting them would only lead to polarisation and backlash, while dialogue could be fruitful," he said. He also called on members of the General Assembly to separate humanitarian aid from "political differences". 

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Mula Baradar in Qatar

Al-Thani used his speech to allude to the US withdrawal from the country. "It is not a question of victory or defeat, but rather the impossibility of importing a political system. Regardless of the intentions, the efforts made or the money invested, this experience has collapsed after 20 years," he added. In this regard, the sheikh stressed not to repeat the mistakes of the past in Afghanistan "in order to impose a political system from outside".

This is not the first time that the UN has proposed talks with the Taliban. Recently, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that "dialogue with the Taliban is essential right now" to avoid a collapse of the Afghan economy. 

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ONU/Daniel Getachew - UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres
The criticised Doha-Taliban nexus

In 2013, Qatar allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha, something supported by then US President Barack Obama. The Democrat, who had pledged to dislodge al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, sought to negotiate with the Taliban to outline a plan for withdrawal from the country.

The relationship between Qatar and the Taliban, although the West has benefited from it, has always been at the centre of controversy. Western and Middle Eastern powers have criticised Doha for its close ties with extremists, going so far as to accuse it of "promoting terrorism". The Qatari authorities, for their part, have always denied these accusations.

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PHOTO/ Twitter/DAVID_MARTINON vía REUTERS - A crowd waits outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, 25 August 2021.

Good relations between Doha and Kabul also facilitated the evacuations, a fact acknowledged by several countries. Zalmay Jalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, thanked the Qatari government for its help in carrying out the international flights from Kabul airport. José Manuel Albares, the Spanish Foreign Minister, also noted Qatar's support in getting all the collaborators out of Afghanistan.

"No one has been able to carry out a major evacuation without the Qataris being involved in one way or another," Dina Esfandiary, an expert with the non-governmental International Crisis Group, told the BBC.

Qatar has not suspended its relations with Afghanistan following the insurgents' rise to power, as many countries did. In fact, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, the Qatari foreign minister, was the first top foreign diplomat to visit Afghanistan after the Taliban took over Kabul. 

PHOTO/@JMALBERES - The Minister of Foreign Affairs, EU and Cooperation, José Manuel Albares, meets with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani

Other powers such as Turkey and Russia follow Qatar's lead and have opted to maintain their diplomatic presence in Kabul.

Qatar's regional and international interests 

One of Doha's main objectives is to gain regional and international relevance in the face of the great influence of other relevant countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. As Guido Steinberg, an analyst at the German institution Science and Politics Foundation, explained to DW, "Qatar has been offering itself as a mediator in regional politics for almost two decades. It does so mainly because it wants to improve its regional position".

In addition to seeking to improve its position, Qatar also has other interests in Afghanistan. The Asian country possesses a wealth of natural resources, such as gas, oil, iron, copper, marble and precious stones. It also has large reserves of lithium and cobalt, key materials for technology. 

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AP/RAHMAT GUL - The brilliant blue lapis lazuli stone, prized for millennia, is found almost exclusively in Afghanistan, a key part of the country's vast mineral wealth.

This wealth, estimated at $3 trillion, could be another reason why Doha wants to maintain and strengthen its relations with the Taliban. However, other countries such as China and Turkey also look ambitiously at this great Afghan treasure. On the other hand, these valuable resources present a great temptation for international powers that refuse to negotiate with the Taliban because they do not respect human rights.

Moreover, if the Islamists succeed in establishing trade relations with other countries, Qatar could also benefit. Doha would then be the main transit bridge for international investment in Afghanistan. For this to happen, the Taliban must become more moderate, something they have been trying to do for some time through propaganda campaigns on social media. However, journalists and activists claim that they are the same as they were in the 1990s.