Implications of the Qatari Prime Minister’s Visit to Kandahar
By: Mohammad Ali Nazari
Up until two weeks ago, the situation had remained relatively unchanged. Despite a silent war occurring between the countries involved in Afghanistan over the monopoly of the Taliban‘s property, each party hoped that the situation would be in their favor. Pakistan viewed itself as the main owner of the Taliban, while Iran claimed to be a major shareholder due to its backing of the group in the last decade. Both China and Russia believed they had a large stake in the Taliban joint–stock company due to the implicit support they had given to the group as a result of the Taliban‘s efforts to get closer to these two countries. Qatar held sway over the Taliban due to their mediation and hosting of the political office of the group, and the United States possessed the Taliban due to the Doha agreement and its dollar packages. This silent war was disrupted by the visit of Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar to Kandahar. Although it was reported that Al Thani was unable to meet Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Supreme Leader of the Taliban, he sent a serious message to his rivals in this sharing company. Since Qatar is the protector of the interests of the United States in Afghanistan, this trip could demonstrate that the Taliban had fallen into the hands of the United States. Iran and other rival countries of the United States, who cannot afford to pay the dollar packages, are the weak side in this competition and will likely fail.
The conflict concerning the Helmand River water has been ongoing for one and a half centuries, since the border between Afghanistan and Iran was established through British mediation. Two agreements have been signed, yet the dispute persists. These conflicts have not yet escalated to the point of military confrontation between the two countries. The unusual tone of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi‘s warnings to the Taliban indicates the gravity of the situation and that Iran‘s expectations from the Taliban have yet to be fulfilled. It is believed that the severity of the Iranian president‘s tone is due to the alteration of the Taliban‘s role in Iran‘s foreign policy, rather than the Helmand water issue or the needs of the people of Sistan and Balochistan.
Iran, which had supported the Taliban in anticipation of a post–American Afghanistan and as a means of control, is now in a position where it feels manipulated by the Taliban, who are fighting for the United States in order to gain more power. This has caused much frustration among Iranian politicians. Tehran appears to have come to the realization that it has lost this group to its powerful adversary, the United States, in the battle for control of the Taliban.
Some Afghan politicians and citizens, including protesting women, have ostensibly accused the United States of providing money to the Taliban. One possible reason for the United States sending packages of dollars to Kabul in cash is that bank transfers of money can be traced by organizations such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a terrorist financing watchdog established in 2001, whereas cash packages cannot be tracked as easily.
In the past two years, the financial crisis in the region has become increasingly severe. Countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have seen a sharp decline in the value of their national currencies. However, the national currency of Afghanistan, which is under the control of the Taliban, has not depreciated much and has remained relatively stable for approximately one year. It is widely known that the Taliban‘s financial policies are not responsible for maintaining the value of the national currency, but rather the injection of dollar packages in the form of humanitarian aid to the country.
The United States has not allocated such money for any reward; rather, it has been present in Afghanistan for the past two decades, both physically and financially. Washington has been instrumental in the development of Afghanistan and the positions of its rulers. After 2021, the United States‘ influence and presence in Afghanistan will be different than what countries like Iran had anticipated. They had thought that the withdrawal of the United States would mean the end of its presence in Afghanistan, not a change in its nature. Consequently, they welcomed the leaders of the Taliban, believing them to be the “genuine movement of the region“. However, the United States has acted contrary to their expectations. Now, Afghanistan‘s land is not empty for countries like Iran, but they must play in the field managed by the United States. Iran, which had thought it had already paid the Taliban the cost of maintaining its presence in the field of Afghanistan, now finds itself having to pay more to maintain this presence – even if it is in a field managed by the United States.
Iran does not possess the financial capability to provide packages of US dollars to the Taliban. Any money it has sent to Afghans in the past is not comparable to the amount of the US dollar packages. These packages have caused the Taliban to transition from hostility towards the United States to a friendly relationship, as acknowledged by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Interior Minister of the Taliban, who spoke about the end of animosity with the United States and expressed the Taliban‘s willingness to be friendly with this country. The Taliban is a group that can change sides and may have a reversal in its relations with the United States.
The Iranian government considers this change to be more important than altering the course of the river or closing the floodgates. The packages of U.S. dollars and the visit of the Prime Minister of Qatar, acting as a protector of the interests of the United States, along with domestic consumption, are the main causes of the current tension over water or the border military conflict between Iran and the Taliban. The conflict that occurred on the border of Afghanistan and Iran, and the media and political chaos that has been widely discussed on virtual platforms, also originated from the trip of Abdul Rahman Al–Thani. This conflict, which can be seen in the videos of the border conflict, is rooted in the protection of the interests of the United States and is likely to continue for some time. Unless Iran is completely dissatisfied with the Taliban, or this group changes its stance again – which is unlikely – the border and media conflicts will eventually dissipate.