Afghan Taliban: Qatar plays major role in peace talks

Comments come as email leak suggests Emirati FM was disappointed US chose Doha over Abu Dhabi to host group’s office.

Qatar played a major role in facilitating peace talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban by opening an office for the group in Doha, a senior Taliban offical told Al Jazeera.

The Taliban official’s comments on Tuesday come as a series of leaked emails from UAE diplomats suggest the Emirati foreign minister was disappointed that US officials had chosen Doha over Abu Dhabi to host the office.

The June 2013 opening of the unofficial embassy allowed for talks to develop, said the Taliban official, who is based in the Qatari capital.

“We got a chance to discuss with Afghan diplomats, journalists and analysts face-to-face on how peace can be achieved in Afghanistan,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In 2016, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international crisis group, organised a meeting in Doha bringing Afghan diplomats, analysts and journalists to the table with the Taliban to discuss how to achieve peace.

“We’ve conducted many peace conferences in Doha and discussed many issues with the help of Qatari officials who played the role of mediators, and nothing else.”

READ MORE: Qatar hosted Taliban ‘at request of US government’

That conference was not a part of the official process between officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US aimed at charting a roadmap to peace.

But the Taliban official said such meetings were important.

He also noted a separate meeting was held between the Taliban and Afghan journalists where both sides were able to discuss their ideas for peace.

The official went on to say that demands on Doha by a Saudi-led bloc currently boycotting the peninsula are “unfair”, and that the quartet should not “accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism”.

Leaked UAE emails

As part of its attempt to isolate the peninsula, the kingdom, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have derided Qatar for hosting an office for the Afghan armed group.

But a series of leaked emails show UAE diplomats lobbied US officials so Abu Dhabi could host the office.

Reported by the New York Times on Monday, the emails from the UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, apparently contradict a mounted campaign against Qatar for its alleged support of “terrorist groups”.

Otaiba said he received an “angry call” from UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, complaining that the Taliban had ended up in Qatar and not the UAE, according to messages in the ambassador’s Hotmail account.

“I got an angry call from [Zayed] saying how come we weren’t told,” Otaiba wrote to an American official.

The newspaper obtained another email dated September 12, 2011, in which an Emirati official questioned the US position on the Taliban office’s location.

READ MORE: Yousef Al Otaiba linked to Malaysia 1MBD scandal – WSJ

“There is an article in the London Times that mentions US is backing setting up a Taliban embassy in Doha,” the diplomat, Mohamed Mahmoud al-Khaja, wrote to Jeffrey Feltman, then assistant secretary of state for near east affairs.

“HH says that we were under the impression that Abu Dhabi was your first choice and this is what we were informed,” Khaja said in the email, referring to bin Zayed.

The latest email leak comes from a group called “GlobalLeaks”, which is not affiliated with the software developer, GlobaLeaks.

GlobalLeaks told Newsweek that the recent messages are proof of the “biggest hypocrisy” in the Qatar crisis.

The office was part of a broader US-led effort to facilitate peace talks in Afghanistan – not to support their ideology or the group itself.

Qatar agreed to open the mission for the Taliban with Washington’s blessing four years ago.

In 2011, when the emails were sent, the Obama administration was making efforts to hold peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government as it sought to remove NATO troops from the country.

Most of the troops withdrew in 2014, but peace was not achieved.

The opening of the office enraged the Afghan president at the time, Hamid Karzai, by styling itself as an unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.

Karzai broke off bilateral talks with the Americans and threatened to boycott any peace process altogether after the Taliban opened the offices with a flag-raising ceremony for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the name of the country under Taliban rule.

That flag has since been removed.

Source: Al Jazeera