Why Does Qatar Host and Support the Taliban?
By: Shujauddin Amini
In 2013, Qatar, with the support of the United States, established a political office in its territory for the Taliban, with the intention of providing a single, designated point of contact for dialogue. This address was referred to by all countries wishing to communicate with the Taliban. On October 12, 2018, the dialogue between the United States and the Taliban began in Doha, culminating in the signing of an agreement between the two sides on February 29, 2020, the most significant outcome of which was the United States‘ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Following the agreement, face–to–face dialogue between the previous government and the Taliban commenced in September 2020, lasting until August 15, 2021, resulting in the downfall of the previous government. The first image of the Taliban‘s presence in the presidential palace was released by Qatar‘s Al Jazeera network.
The Qatari authorities have asserted that they did not act to the advantage or detriment of any of the parties involved in the dialogue, but rather sought to facilitate the dialogues of the two sides and fulfill their duty as an impartial mediator. Following the resurgence of the Taliban, Qatar‘s role as a mediator has remained intact. Qatar has aided Western countries, particularly the United States, in the evacuation process. It is also responsible for safeguarding the interests of the United States in Afghanistan, as well as continuing to host international meetings to resolve the Afghan crisis. Qatar‘s embassy is open in Kabul and officials from this country periodically visit Afghanistan and meet with Taliban officials.
On May 12, 2023, Mohammad bin Abdul Rahman Al–Thani, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, traveled to Kandahar to meet with Taliban officials. Despite the fact that the Taliban‘s actions are highly disconcerting, Qatari officials have repeatedly asserted that it is essential to engage with them.
The recent visit of the Qatari official to Kandahar was of great significance to the media, as Qatar appears to be the messenger of the United States to the Taliban. Following this trip, Mullah Hassan Akhund, the prime minister of the Taliban, was removed from his position and Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, who had previously served as a political deputy, was appointed in his stead. This news caused a stir in the media and further fuelled the suspicion that the Qatari official had a hand in the matter.
Upon reviewing this preface, one may ask why Qatar hosts and supports the Taliban. The following points may assist the reader in obtaining an answer to this query:
- Qatar Can Come to Terms with Islamic Movements
Qatar has had a positive relationship with Islamic movements, in contrast to other Arab countries, where both monarchs and republics have had a strained relationship with them. For example, in Egypt, President Jamal Abdel Nasser suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood, and in Saudi Arabia, King Al-Saud has been hostile to both Islamic and non–Islamic revivalist
. Qatar, however, has taken a different approach, attempting to prevent rather than suppress Islamic movements. It has provided refuge to prominent figures from various Islamic movements, such as Youssef al-Qaradawi of the Brotherhood Movement in Egypt, Rashid Ghannouchi of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, Khaled Mashal of the political office of Hamas in Palestine, and Abbas Madani of the Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria. These individuals sought refuge in Qatar to escape the oppression of their rulers, and it is believed that Qatar sought to use them to create an educational system independent of the Wahhabism of Al-Saud.
Furthermore, Qatar was the only Arab nation to back the Arab Spring of 2011, which provoked its neighbors. It is believed that Qatar‘s aim was to direct the revolution towards Saudi Arabia, though this did not come to fruition. For instance, Qatar provided financial aid to the government of Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was established after the uprisings in Egypt. Qatar donated seven billion dollars to Morsi‘s government. After Fattah al–Sisi assumed power in Egypt, the relationship between Egypt and Qatar deteriorated.
In 2017, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain imposed sanctions on Qatar due to suspicions of its involvement in terrorism and interference in the internal affairs of other countries. The Taliban, despite having ethnic tendencies, are viewed as an Islamic movement, and the resurgence of political Islam is a cause for concern for them. This group has many similarities with the Islamic movements that Qatar supports. Qatar may believe that backing the Taliban is equivalent to supporting other Islamic movements in the Arab world, which is a source of apprehension for its neighbors.
- Qatar Wants to Be Known as a Mediator
Qatar‘s success can be attributed to its adoption of mediation diplomacy, which has been effective in resolving conflicts. This has caused other countries to not underestimate Qatar, which has presented itself as a successful, honest, impartial, and peaceful mediator in the world. The most notable example of Qatar‘s mediation is the agreement between the United States and the Taliban, which was signed on February 29, 2020. Additionally, Qatar has been mediating between the United States and Iran for a long time, which is a difficult task due to the United States‘ status as the top power in the world and Iran‘s status as the top power in the region. This mediation has earned Qatar international prestige and credibility.
Qatari officials, who are commuting to Afghanistan, wish to maintain control over the Taliban‘s leadership so that they can have a decisive role in the formation of a new political order, similar to their role in the signing of the agreement between the United States and the Taliban. Qatar is making regional and global efforts to resolve the Afghan crisis, and it is expected that if an international meeting is held, it should be hosted by Qatar. The world has high expectations from Qatar, as it has had a good relationship with Islamic movements and has hosted the Taliban group for many years, believing that Qatar may be able to moderate the Taliban‘s behavior and encourage them to form an inclusive government.
It appears that Qatar has proposed hosting the Taliban and their adversaries, which would necessitate the full approval of the major powers in the region and the West. If Qatar is successful in this endeavor, it will likely gain greater prestige in the region and the world.
- Qatar Competes with UAE and Saudi Arabia
Qatar is in a state of tension with its two neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both of which have been known to support the Taliban in the past. The UAE still maintains an open relationship with the Taliban, while Saudi Arabia does not. In order to prevent Saudi Arabia and the UAE from having the same level of influence over the Taliban as before, Qatar has entered the fray, pushing them back. Qatar‘s foreign policy was heavily influenced by Saudi Arabia until the 1990s, as Saudi Arabia expected Qatar to take its considerations and concerns into account in the international arena. However, since the 1990s, Qatar has moved towards greater independence in its foreign policy, often going against the wishes of Saudi Arabia. Qatar was fearful of being swallowed up by Saudi Arabia, as Kuwait was by Iraq, and thus established relations with the United States in the West and Iran and Turkey in the region, which are rivals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
When examining Qatar‘s rivalry with Saudi Arabia and the UAE concerning the Taliban, it is evident that history has repeated itself in reverse. In 1996, the Taliban rose to power with the backing of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and in 2021, Qatar provided hosting and support. It is reported that the Taliban were more content with Qatar hosting peace talks than Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as Qatar was perceived to be more sympathetic to Islamic movements than Saudi Arabia and the UAE.