Qatar’s move to act as a mediator between the Taliban’s political leaders and former Afghan officials has solidified the Gulf state as a regional power broker, analysts say.
Over the past year, Qatar has hosted talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and before that, between the Taliban and the United States as Washington hashed out the terms of its withdrawal from Afghanistan and an end to its 20-year war.
Top Taliban political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar returned to Afghanistan this week from his residence in Qatar.
“Qatar has positioned itself as the go-to mediator with the Taliban. It was a risky bet, especially considering the optics with the wider public, but it paid off,” said Cinzia Bianco, Gulf research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“Now, Qatar is well-positioned to be the first contact point for regional and international players who want to explore the possibility of engaging with the Taliban … without compromising themselves,” she added.
Just this week, a senior US military commander met face-to-face with the Taliban in Doha to negotiate the safe passage of thousands of people wanting to leave Afghanistan, underscoring the crucial role Qatar is playing amid the muddled US exit.
Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base hosts some 10,000 American troops.
Senior Middle East adviser at Crisis Group, Dina Esfandiary, said while Qatar’s bet as “regional mediator” seems to have paid off, it remains to be seen how it will work out in the long term.
In 2011, the Obama administration allowed a group of Taliban officials to move to Qatar, where they would be charged with laying the groundwork for face-to-face negotiations with the government of then-President Hamid Karzai.
In 2013, the Taliban’s Doha office was formally opened. In 2018, the Trump administration began formal, direct talks with the group. The Afghan government was not invited.
Baradar, the head of the Taliban political office in Doha, signed an agreement with the United States on February 29, 2020, that paved way for the withdrawal of the US and other foreign forces. The Taliban promised not to attack US-led foreign forces.
The agreement also launched peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan leadership in the Qatari capital. But the Taliban continued its military offensive on the ground while participating in the talks.
Last Sunday, the armed group entered the presidential palace, retaking Afghanistan 20 years after it was driven out of power.