Qatar hosts face-to-face meeting between Taliban and US during Antalya Forum

Qatar hosts face-to-face meeting between Taliban and US during Antalya Forum.

DOHA, TGO: Qatar hosted a meeting with the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan and the US, on Friday, on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. The meeting took place in Turkey between Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, interim Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, and US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Thomas West.

In a press statement, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry (MOFA) said, “During the meeting, they reviewed the security and political developments in Afghanistan, and ways of coordination and cooperation to achieve stability for the Afghan people and avoid any humanitarian crisis.”

The Gulf state has been calling on the international community to not isolate Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover on 15 August, last year. Western powers, including the US, that have been at war with the Taliban for 20 years, have recently started engaging with the new de facto government. Qatar held the first meeting between the US and Taliban since the takeover, in October last year.

Before the takeover, Qatar facilitated direct talks between the US and the Taliban in 2020, which saw the signing of the Doha agreement. Under the accord, the two sides agreed on the conditional withdrawal of US and NATO forces by 1 May, 2021. The date was then changed following the transition of US administrations between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

Biden decided to extend the deadline until 11 September without conditions before changing it to 31 August, as the Taliban seized one territory after the other before eventually taking over Kabul. Whilst more meetings have been taking place with the government in Afghanistan and other states or international institutions, no country has formally recognized the current administration.

Speaking to reporters in Turkey, Muttaqi stressed that “the Islamic Emirate has fulfilled all conditions for recognition and should be recognised by the international community”. He also called for the release of Afghan assets, as the country grapples with worsening humanitarian and economic crises, exacerbated by decades of war and drought.

Last month, US President Joe Biden ordered the release of $7 billion in Afghanistan’s funds, which were frozen following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. Out of the total amount, Afghans living under the dire humanitarian situation, worsened by the US invasion, are going to receive $3.5 billion. The other half of the Afghan funds will be going towards victims of the 9/11 attack.

Afghans and activists around the world slammed the decision to split the country’s money as “theft” and “punishment” carried out by the US. The invasion left behind over 70,000 civilian casualties and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. The UN said on 8 March that 24.4 million people in Afghanistan, more than half of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Qatar’s efforts in Afghanistan
Qatar proved its reliability as a strategic US ally last year when it facilitated history’s largest airlift of people following the events in Kabul. The Gulf state evacuated more than 70,000 Afghans and foreigners from the country. In September, Qatar resumed civilian flights from Kabul International Airport following talks with the interim-Afghan government. A flight chartered by the US and operated by Qatar Airways carried 227 civilians including US citizens, green card holders and their dependents.

Qatar and the US signed an agreement during their latest Strategic Dialogue, enabling the former to represent Washington’s interest in Afghanistan. Qatar officially became a major non-NATO ally (MNNA) on Thursday after President Biden made the request on 31 January during Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Washington. Qatar is now the third Gulf country to be added to the list of MNNA’s, which already includes Bahrain and Kuwait. The MNNA designation provides Washington’s foreign partners with several benefits in areas concerning defence trade and security cooperation.