Qatar played an outsized role in US efforts to evacuate tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan. Now the tiny Gulf Arab state is being asked to help shape what is next for Afghanistan because of its ties with both Washington and the Taliban, who are in charge in Kabul.
Qatar will be among global heavyweights when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts a virtual meeting to discuss a coordinated approach for the days ahead, as the US completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country. The meeting will also include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, the European Union and NATO.
Qatar has also reportedly been asked by the Taliban to provide civilian technical assistance at Kabul’s international airport, once the US military withdrawal is complete on Tuesday. Authorities in Qatar have not commented on the reports.
Meanwhile, international UN agencies are asking Qatar for help and support in delivering aid to Afghanistan.
Qatar’s role was somewhat unexpected. The nation, which shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and a vast underwater gas field in the Persian Gulf with Iran, was supposed to be a transit point for just a few thousand people airlifted from Afghanistan over a timeline of several months.
After the surprisingly swift Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, the United States looked to Qatar to help shoulder the evacuations of tens of thousands of people.
In the end, nearly 40% of all evacuees were moved out via Qatar, winning its leadership heaps of praise from Washington. International media outlets also leaned on Qatar for their own staff evacuations. The United States said on Saturday that 113,500 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14. Qatar says a little more than 43,000 had transited through the country.
Assistant Qatari Foreign Minister H.E. Lolwa al-Khater acknowledged the political gains scored by Qatar in the past weeks, but rebuffed any suggestion that Qatar’s efforts were purely strategic.
“If anyone assumes that it’s only about political gains, believe me, there are ways to do PR that are way easier than risking our people there on the ground, way easier than us having sleepless nights literally for the past two weeks, way less complicated than spending our time looking after every kid and every pregnant woman,” she told The Associated Press.
For some of the most sensitive rescue efforts in Afghanistan, Qatar conducted the operation with a few hundred troops and its own military aircraft. Qatar evacuated a girls’ boarding school, an all-girls robotics team and journalists working for international media, among others. Qatar’s ambassador accompanied convoys of buses through a gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints in Kabul and past various Western military checkpoints at the airport, where massive crowds had gathered, desperate to flee.
In all, H.E. Al-Khater said Qatar secured passage to the airport for some 3,000 people and airlifted as many as 1,500 after receiving requests from international organizations and vetting their names.
H.E. Al-Khater said Qatar was uniquely positioned because of its ability to speak to various parties on the ground and its willingness to escort people through Taliban-controlled Kabul.
Source and cover image: Associated Press (apnews.com)
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