Qatar has a key role in Afghanistan conflict, but why actually?

With the Taliban in Afghanistan, more and more countries are moving their embassies temporarily from Kabul to Doha, the capital of Qatar. The country with less than three million inhabitants, most of which are expats, has been given a central role in the conflict in Afghanistan.

It is no coincidence that Foreign Minister Kaag was in Qatar today for consultations on developments in Afghanistan.

The Gulf State has played an important role in Afghan politics in recent years. The country has ties to the United States, but is also on good footing with the Taliban. Qatar has the largest US military base in the Middle East, but meanwhile, since 2013, the country has also housed a Taliban political office. For example, it has the ideal diplomatic position to take on the role of mediator.

Soft power

โ€œIts a role Qatar takes on more often,โ€ says UVA political scientist Paul Aarts. And the Gulf State does so above all to maintain the countrys reputation, he explains. โ€œWhen it comes to population, surface or military force, Qatar doesnt count. They want to compensate for that by finding a place on the world stage in other areas. Thats what you call soft power.โ€

โ€œFor example, where the Emirates sponsor multiple sports clubs – Qatar does on a smaller scale as well – Qatar also expressly manifests itself as a mediator in political conflicts,โ€ says Aarts. For example, peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban were already held in Qatar in 2018. Two years later, the Afghan government was also involved in those talks.

In Doha, the Americans and the Taliban finally reached an agreement. Foreign forces would leave the country within fourteen months, and in return the Taliban would ensure that Al-Qaida terrorist organization would not gain power in Afghanistan.

More about the Taliban in this explainer:

That deal has ultimately led to the situation of the past month. America and NATO troops have withdrawn and the Taliban took over power. It was agreed that Qatar would help transport a few thousand people from Afghanistan.

So, when the Taliban took over the country at a rapid pace and the chaos broke out, Qatar was counted on. Of the more than 120,000 Afghans who fled their country, about 40 percent have traveled through the Gulf State to their final destination. Approximately 8000 of them will stay in Qatar for short or longer periods of time.

Assistance and interference in Afghanistan makes Qatar a major player on the world stage. The Qatari Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs admits that the country has gained political profits over the past few weeks. But she tells the AP news agency that their efforts were not purely strategic. โ€œThere are much easier ways to make a good name,โ€ she says. โ€œWays where we dont risk the lives of our own people.โ€

The country has helped tens of thousands of people with their flight from the Taliban. On the other hand, it calls on the international community to engage with the Taliban. The Qatari Foreign Minister stressed that if the Taliban were to fall into isolation, Afghanistan would become even more unstable. Meanwhile, no country has recognised the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.

Recognize Taliban

Aarts does not expect Qatar to be the first country to recognise the Taliban as a government. โ€œIn the past they have never recognized the Taliban as a government, while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan did. So why would they do that now?โ€ he wonders.

โ€œThanks to the soft power that Qatar has successfully used, they have already made an important blow. They dont feel the need to recognise the new regime. Their prestige does not necessarily increase immediately. And it seems to me that the Taliban is not going to demand that from them either, because they are far too dependent on Dohas goodwill as a mediator.โ€