Guest post by Luis Arellano
The United States left Afghanistan in a hurry earlier this summer. Just as quickly, Qatar came marching in.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited Kabul this week, a destination that has been shunned by Western governments. He met with Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the acting Prime Minister of the neo-Taliban regime. it is true Qatar has also facilitated some humanitarian airlifts from Kabul. Yet, in the long-term why is Qatar seeking to build such a strong relationship with the Taliban? Humanitarian assistance missions don’t require a visit from a foreign minister which is the most senior international recognition the Taliban has received since conquering Kabul. The status of women and human rights in Afghanistan are in serious jeopardy. Will the international community put any pressure or bring any attention to this issue? Now is the time for a united front.
For watchers of Qatar, its Deja-vu all over again.
As Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of the Foundation of the Defense of democracies pointed out before Congress in 2017, there is clear evidence of “Qatari support for Hamas, the Taliban, jihadists in Syria, jihadists in Libya and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Qatar has long been host to a Taliban embassy and has provided economic support to Hamas. Qatar defended this action as facilitating negotiations with the Taliban, yet in reality Qatar has been playing a long-game to gain important leverage in Kabul.
In 2017, the nations of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain said enough was enough. In the context of then President Trump’s new emphasis on combatting terrorism, they took a stand. Qatar slowly backed away from its roles as a regional rogue. Ties were restored and the Gulf seemed coherent again as the Turkey-Qatar axis diminshed.
However, for Qatar the opportunities on the ground in Afghanistan are too much to ignore. This is disconcerting because the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan will likely mean that once again the country will become a safe haven for terrorist groups, as others have pointed out.
Perhaps Qatar’s motive is simply to gain leverage across the geopolitical chessboard but, whatever the reason, the only benefactor will be Iran and al Qaeda. Tehran has good ties with Qatar and they would under normal circumstances have the most to loose by the Taliban’s resumption of control. Iran and the Taliban almost went to war in the late 1990s. Yet, now Qatar can mediate any potential conflict and assure Iran’s eastern flank is secure.
Qatar benefits the most playing lion-keeper vis-a-vie the Taliban and the West. The United States and Pakistan suffer from this as they are unable to put pressure on the Taliban and their government with Qatar advocating for Taliban’s leaders.
Never forget Al-Qaeda also benefits from the chaos in Kabul. The Taliban will at the very least turn a blind eye. Perhaps with the war over they will need an outlet for the former Taliban soldiers who fought American and Afghan forces. That will likely mean terrorism in the region and elsewhere around the globe.
Like the Corona virus. You may have forgot about Al-Qaeda but, they haven’t forgot about you.
Luis Arellano is a freelance writer focused on international affairs
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