Analysis: Turkey and Qatar emerge as Taliban government’s main envoys to the West

Turkish embassy in Afghanistan

TURKEY AND QATAR, TWO countries with a growing diplomatic and intelligence network inside Afghanistan, are emerging as significant envoys to the Western world for the new government of the Taliban. Their newfound role in the Central Asian country puts them in direct competition with China and Russia, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open throughout the dramatic events of the past month. Three other countries with historically close ties to the Taliban, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also important players amidst the new reality in the war-torn country.

As a recent article by the BBC points out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s, when the group last held the reins of power in Kabul. But they quickly cut diplomatic ties with it following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their contacts with some of the older Taliban leaders remain strong, however.

In contrast to the older generation, some of the younger leaders of the Taliban see Qatar and Turkey as important mediators and conduits of communication with the outside world, and especially with the West. It is no accident that the Taliban entrusted the restoration of the —undoubtedly soon to be renamed— Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to technicians from Turkey and Qatar, who were hurriedly flown to the Afghan capital last week for that purpose.

In establishing relations of trust with the Taliban, Qatar is relying on a lengthy record of facilitating diplomatic connections between the militant group and Western powers. It should be recalled that it was in Doha that American and Taliban representatives negotiated the terms of Washington’s exit over several meetings spanning several administrations in the White House. In the past month, the Qataris used their links to the Taliban to assist numerous Western nations, including the United States, in evacuating their citizens from Afghanistan.

Turkey’s ties to Afghanistan are both historical and symbolic. Persian-speaking Turkic tribespeople numbering in their hundreds of thousands live throughout the Central Asian country today. Additionally, the Taliban leadership views Turkey as the heir of the Ottoman Empire, whose Islamic caliphate they strive to reproduce in this century. Turkey is also diplomatically allied with Pakistan, which is the Taliban’s closest international ally. Moreover, Turkish troops have guarded the airport in Kabul for over six years, and are still present in the Afghan capital today. In the past few weeks, as Western diplomats have been frantically abandoning Kabul, Turkish officials have been going there repeatedly to hold meetings with Taliban leaders.

As the BBC poignantly notes, both Qatar and Turkey are able to offer the Taliban something that China, Russia and Pakistan cannot: namely an indirect line of communication with the United States and its allies, which the Taliban need in their pursuit of international recognition in the coming year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 September 2021 | Permalink

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