Qatar is a country that has played one of the most important roles in resolving the current Afghan crisis. Its capital, Doha, has become not only a major transit point for people leaving Afghanistan, but also a haven for Western embassies who have moved from Kabul. The role of a mediator between the Taliban (the Taliban movement banned in Russia) and the world community has helped Qatar to seriously increase its international and regional significance. This did not happen by chance, but thanks to the consistent steps of the Qatari leadership. We will tell you how diplomacy and participation in the Afghan crisis helped Doha become one of the most valuable partners for many states.
If the pandemic does not confuse the cards again, next year Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In the same year, a small state in the Persian Gulf received almost 60 thousand people exported from Afghanistan. This is almost half of all evacuees from this country. For Qatar, which is home to about 300 thousand citizens (as well as 2 million guest workers), this is a tangible figure. The main transit point for passengers from Afghanistan has become the Al-Udeid base located near Doha, the largest US military facility in the Middle East.
Qatar, whose total area is smaller than that of some American states, has turned out to be one of the key participants in the Afghan settlement. All thanks to the diplomatic ties that the kingdom has developed for more than one year. It was in Qatar in 2020 that Washington and the Taliban reached a historic agreement on the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. The negotiations took place in Doha, since the office of the political wing of the Taliban has been operating in this city since 2013. Qatar’s involvement in this process could not leave it indifferent to what is happening in Afghanistan today.
Doha sends tons of food and medicine to this country. The Qatari military removed from Afghanistan a girls’ boarding school, a team of robot girls and international media journalists. Qatar’s ambassador to Afghanistan personally accompanied US citizens through Taliban checkpoints. Qatar Airways provided ten aircraft to transport evacuees from Doha to third countries. Qatari specialists, together with Turkey, helped the Taliban to resume the work of the Kabul airport and intend to further train their Afghan colleagues. Last week, the first Qatar Airways plane since the American departure made an international flight from Kabul to Doha.
Almost all of Kabul’s diplomatic life has also moved to Qatar. Various foreign embassies have moved to the city – the USA, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and other countries.
Against this background, Western diplomats and po-liticians have become frequent visitors. In August, t-he head of the German di-plomatic service, Heiko Maas, came to Doha. At the beginning of September in Qatar visited the Foreign Minister of Great Britain, the Netherlands, as well as Italy.
Earlier, US President Joe Biden in a telephone conversation expressed his gratitude to the 41-year-old Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, saying that without the support of Doha, the US evacuation from Afghanistan would have been impossible.
Also last week, Qatar was visited by two important officials from Washington – Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the head of the Pentagon Lloyd Austin.
“Many countries have volunteered to help with the evacuation of Afghanistan, but no country has done more than Qatar,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with Austin and their Qatari counterparts. The S-ecretary of State has promised “dividends” that both sides will derive from their partnership in the future.
Most likely, dividends will come not only from US cooperation. The Afghan crisis has propelled Qatar into the top league of international politics, making the monarchy a useful and welcome friend.
For a state that has only recently emerged from regional isolation, this is of particular importance. In the summer of 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt declared a diplomatic blockade on Qatar. The countries accused the Qatari authorities of having links with terrorists (including Al-Qaeda and IS), of collusion with Iran, of interfering in the internal affairs of Arab neighbors, and even demanded that Doha close the Al Jazeera news channel.
The blockade, which was indirectly approved by the then American President Trump, lasted until 2021.
The best friend of the Islamists
According to open data from the CIA, Qatar’s GDP per capita is more than $ 90,000 per year. The country owes its wealth to the large oil and gas fields that it develops in the same region as Iran.
Despite the financial prosperity, the Qatari government and Qatari society remain closed and very conservative. The main source of Qatari legislation is still Sharia law. Corporal punishment is still practiced in the country for Muslim drinking and extramarital affairs. In some cases, even the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, although in fact it is rarely used. At the same time, the first female minister in Qatar appeared back in 2003.
Back in 2013, one of the BBC’s sources in Taliban circles claimed that Qatar had long maintained “warm” relations with Afghan militants. This explains their choice of Doha as the location for the Taliban. Although besides the Afghan monarchy, the monarchy got along well with other radicals, including the Hamas militants and the Muslim Brotherhood (banned in the Russian Federation). Doha openly expressed its sympathy for the Islamists during the “Arab Spring”. In particular, she sympathized with the rebels in Libya and Syria. This, among other things, caused misunderstanding on the part of some Arab neighbors.
The Afghan question is not the first time that Qatar has used its connections in the Islamic world to help the West. In addition to Afghanistan, the Qatari side acted as a mediator in the Syrian negotiations. In 2014, the country helped trade several guantanamo prison fighters for US Army Sergeant Bow Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban for five years.
“Qatar has always strived to be a global player, whether it is hosting large-scale sports events or collaborating with large countries, as well as presenting itself as a regional pivot of world politics and diplomacy,” The New York Times quotes Michael Stevens, senior fellow at the Research Institute of Foreign Affairs. politicians.
The ideologist of the new Afghanistan
While two-thirds of all those evacuated to Doha went to other countries, about 20,000 Afghan refugees remain in Qatar itself.
Local authorities provide them with food and medical care. Some Afghans were even housed in villas that were built specifically for the World Cup. Although most people still live at the Al Udeid base located in the desert. To alleviate their harsh living conditions, authorities have deployed an ambulance field hospital, additional shelters and portable toilets in the area.
It is important to note that Qatar itself will only accept a minimal number of refugees. For example, a team of Afghan girls robotics, who have already been offered scholarships, will remain in the country. The rest of the settlers will be accommodated in other countries.
At the same time, the role of Doha on the Afghan track, obviously, will not be limited only to humanitarian missions. Having proved its effectiveness as a mediator, Qatar is likely to become one of the ideologists of the new political course in Afghanistan. It is not yet clear what kind of influence Qatar has on the Taliban. Will Doha be able to correct their course of government. Most likely, the monarchy remains a kind of bridge between the Taliban and the international community. However, much will depend on how the situation in Afghanistan itself will develop.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani arrived in Kabul last Sunday. There he met with Mullah Hasan Akhund, acting prime minister in the new Taliban government. So far, the Qatari diplomat has become the highest-ranking official to officially visit the country since the US left. The details of the talks between Al Thani and Akhund were not disclosed.