New Delhi: Kabul may be in the news, but it is Doha that has become the magnet. Almost everyone, from Japan to India and European nations, is rushing to the emirate to start a dialogue with the Taliban.
The latest in this frenetic diplomatic activity is the United Kingdom, which sent its Foreign Minister Dominic Raab to meet with the Emir of Qatar and also the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Raab is on a regional tour to assess the Afghan situation.
Evacuation of British nationals and vulnerable Afghans was on Raab’s list of priorities along with the Qataris. He also plans to discuss the rehabilitation of Afghan refugees in neighboring countries so that they do not head to the UK and Europe.
Raab’s visit was preceded by the British Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Afghan Transition, Simon Gass, in Doha. The agenda for the talks is to provide safe passage for Afghans who have been close allies with the UK for the past 20 years. It would be the first public diplomatic meeting between the Taliban and the UK.
The UK has identified at least around 150 to 250 people and their families who need to be relocated. Besides a safe passage for strategic Afghans, the UK has not revealed what is on the agenda with the Taliban.
Just a day earlier, the delegation from the Dutch Foreign Ministry also arrived in Doha to discuss the operations at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul and also the evacuation of foreign nationals and some Afghans.
Netherlands Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag met with Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. The Netherlands have also moved their Afghan embassy to Doha.
Meanwhile, the Japanese news agency Kyodo News reported that Japan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday announced the opening of a temporary office in Doha. This follows his decision to close the Kabul embassy after the Taliban blitzkrieg in July and August. Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan Takashi Okada will head the Doha office.
Turkey, which has established itself as a power in the Muslim world and was part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, is jostling with Qatar for influence in Afghanistan. The two countries are also working together to operationalize the Kabul airport.
As part of his efforts to reach out to the Taliban more effectively, Turkish Ambassador to Qatar Mustafa Goksu met with representatives of the Taliban in Doha. Turkey has openly called for a greater role with the withdrawal of the Americans.
India, which is closely monitoring the dynamics in Afghanistan, also met with the Taliban this week. Indian Ambassador Deepak Mittal met with the head of the Taliban political bureau in Doha, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, on various issues of concern to India. The main one is the limitation of militant activities on Afghan soil which could have an impact on India. New Delhi fears that many militant groups in Afghanistan, which owe their existence to Pakistani support, will be mobilized against India.
Mittal took up other Indian concerns such as the protection of minorities in Afghanistan as well as operations at the Kabul airport. Stanekzai, the main representative of the Taliban who speaks with envoys and international delegations in Doha, trained in India’s top military academies. Various Taliban leaders and commanders assured New Delhi that the Taliban wanted to maintain positive relations with India.
Doha was once again the scene of India’s discussions on the Afghan situation.
About two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar visited the Qatari capital to meet with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on the Afghan scenario. . Jaishankar has been a frequent traveler to Doha due to the seismic changes in the vicinity of India.
The irony of all of this is that although countries are preparing to speak to the Taliban, they have not made a commitment to recognize it. However, in the rapidly changing Afghan situation, it is evident that everyone is heading to Doha for a solution.
Qatar has become the only player in the entire geostrategic region – South Asia, the Gulf and Central Asia where Afghanistan is located – that has opened a credible window for the world to see and speak to the Taliban.
Despite Islamabad’s grip on the militant group, due to its close relationship with commanders and various activists, it is Qatar that has become the global hotspot. Publicly, Islamabad has acted as a go-between for a few close allies and the Taliban. Perhaps because it is not considered a sufficiently reliable country because of its strategic interests in Afghanistan.
Since February 29, 2020, when the United States signed the much-criticized peace agreement with the Taliban in Doha, the oil-rich emirate has been in the spotlight for trying to play the role of peacekeeper in Afghanistan. . Doha has long allowed talks between the two sworn enemies of the United States and the Taliban. He also allowed the Taliban to open an office in one of its affluent localities.
The United States chose Qatar to start talks with the Taliban because of its neutrality in the region. The Taliban, with their various factions and numerous rulers, have also found Qatar a suitable ally. This rapprochement of opposing forces in the Afghan theater has made Qatar a neutral ground. Probably, more importantly, he has established himself as a trustworthy partner and a reliable mediator between the world and the multi-headed Taliban.
Americans and Taliban leaders have met on Qatari soil for years, giving Qatar more credibility as a reliable partner in engaging with the Taliban. After a long and patient wait as a catalyst for peace talks in Afghanistan, Qatar, the wealthy Gulf emirate, has established itself, with a distinct foreign policy, in a geography littered with once-powerful rivalries and civilizations.