Paris (Brussels Morning) Amidst the chaos surrounding the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Qatar’s essential work and acting as a go-between has considerably facilitated the evacuation efforts from Afghanistan. Building on the mediation efforts undertaken for almost a decade, Qatar is in a position to further support – logistically and diplomatically – the communication between the Taliban and the international community in order to protect lives.
One of the people appreciative of Qatar’s contribution is none other the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, was born in the Swat district of northwestern Pakistan, where her father was a school owner while she was blogging for the BBC. The Taliban attempted to assassinate her in 2012 as she came home from school, but survived and underwent several operations in the UK, going on to become an advocate for the right of girls to education.
Critical role in evacuation efforts
“The Qataris are playing such a critical role in these evacuations. You cannot really underscore enough the role Qatar is playing in all of this. They are not only providing evacuation flights for Americans, Afghan civilians and of other people stuck in Afghanistan; they are acting as a critical link with the Taliban”, US network Fox News reported. The calm is also due to the link with the Taliban, because they are able to tell them to let these (people) get out, let the flights get off and if there are any attacks on our allies, there will be consequences.
Middle East specialist Andreas Krieg described the Qatari effort as “the most important force multiplication role they ever provided to the United States”. According to a White House statement, President Joe Biden thanked Emir Tamim in a call for the country’s “generous support”, saying that the airlifts “would not have been possible without the early support from Qatar”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed her thanks and appreciation for the role Qatar is playing in Afghanistan in a call with Emir Tamim on Tuesday.
The German Foreign Office Twitter account separately reported Heiko Maas’ communication with the Qatari Foreign Minister in which he “expressed his gratitude for Qatar’s continued support in facilitating safe transit of German citizens and foreign nationals from Kabul to Germany”, adding: “Qatar has taken on a real leadership role”.
This view is echoed by Washington Post reporting that the Qatari Ambassador to Afghanistan has escorted groups of Americans into the airport, in order to guarantee safe passage.
The legacy of the Doha process
Qatar’s ability to provide safe passage for evacuations and to contribute to maintaining heightened security at the Kabul airport is due to its position as a mediator between the Taliban and international players over the past few years.
Through the Doha process, Qatar has provided the ground for continued mediation and direct talks between the Taliban and US administrations since 2011. In 2013, the Taliban opened a political office in Doha, with the US’ blessing, as a base for negotiators, so the international community could engage the group politically, France 24 reports. “The Taliban office then became more and more an integral part of the US strategy to negotiate a withdrawal from the country under the Trump administration”, Krieg adds. Although it never established diplomatic ties or recognised the Taliban 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan, Qatar was seen by the Taliban as a neutral host for talks.
“Qatar has been at the centre of this diplomatic engagement for a really long time, and that can only happen because there’s been a decent engagement with all sides”, France 24 quotes Royal United Services Institute research fellow Tobias Borck as saying. “Conversations were had; the deal the Trump administration made with the Taliban last year… required having this space”.
The central mediation role Qatar undertook has allowed it to build considerable leverage in the region, which in turn proved crucial over the past week since the takeover of Kabul.
“Qatar has positioned itself as the go-to mediator with the Taliban. It was a risky bet, especially considering the optics with the wider public, but it paid off”, said Cinzia Bianco, Gulf Research Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Now, Qatar is well-positioned to be the first contact point for regional and international players who want to explore the possibility of engaging with the Taliban … without compromising themselves”, she added.