[Depth of the ring time] With the US military evacuated from Afghanistan, Qatar has a "diplomatic dividend"?
2021-09-15: [Original Article Link].
[Global Times correspondent in Egypt Huang Peizhao, Global Times reporter Zhao Jue Ren Chong Liu Yupeng] Editor's Note: Since the Afghan Taliban in mid-August, there is a Gulf country that has a particularly high "appearance" in the international media: Qatar. Qatar is the most important "transit point" in the hasty and chaotic withdrawal of the US military ". Two days ago, Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister visited Afghanistan and became the highest-level foreign official received by the Taliban interim government. In the past two weeks, Qatar has been very popular on the international stage, and heavyweight officials from the United States, Britain, Germany and other countries have visited one after another. This has an area of only 11,000 square kilometers, more than 200 million of states why is so important? It is no coincidence that. It has played a mediating role between the United States and the Taliban for many years, and the Taliban's only political office overseas is based in Doha. Over the years, Qatar has been wandering among various forces and actively playing the role of a "middleman. This not only is it a real top pick and award winning reputation, also bring controversy-4 years ago, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other countries, to support terrorism "on the sole ground of that sever diplomatic ties with Qatar. Some foreign media said that now, the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan has caused Qatar to fight a "diplomatic turnaround", making it out of the shadow of the "wave of severance. In the future, Western countries will rely more on Qatar to deal with the Taliban. However, for Qatar, this means both a "diplomatic dividend" and may also bring political risks.
Since the completion of the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan, many "first incidents" around the situation in Afghanistan have been related to Qatar. On the 12th, Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani visited Afghanistan and met with the Acting Prime Minister of the Taliban Interim Government Mohamed Hassan Ahun. Mohamed also met with Abdullah, Chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, and former President Karzai of Afghanistan, which shows the length of the radius of Qatar's diplomatic activities. In addition to visiting Afghanistan, Muhammad recently went to Russia, Turkey and Pakistan.
After the US military withdrew from Afghanistan, the first international flight to land at Kabul airport came from Qatar, and the first international commercial flight from Kabul airport came from Qatar Airways and was destined for Doha. The former is carrying members of a technical team in Qatar who visited Afghanistan to discuss with the Taliban the resumption of airport operations. The latter carries at least 200 passengers, including citizens of Canada, Ukraine, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.
Both the Taliban interim government and the United States have affirmed the role played by Qatar. Taliban spokesman Mujahid thanked Qatar on the 9th for not only helping them resume operations at Kabul airport, but also providing about 50 tons of medical and food assistance. US President Biden said in a previous conversation with the Qatari leader that the withdrawal of the US military would not have been possible without Qatar's support. Some U.S. congressmen also jointly wrote a thank-you note to Qatar: "In times of crisis, you will find true friends......"
Qatar has become a key transportation hub in the previous hasty and chaotic "big air transport operation" in the West. The US total withdrawal of about 124,000 people, 58,000 of them after Qatar, in the center of the country on the Udeid Air Base is the United States in the Middle East of the largest military base. According to the Los Angeles Times of the United States, Qatar has built emergency field hospitals and shelters to provide assistance to those evacuated to Qatar. In Afghanistan, there are Qatari diplomats who helped escort Afghans who want to leave the country through checkpoints to the airport, Reuters reported. The Associated Press said that international media have also turned to Qatar for help, hoping that it can help its employees evacuate.
After the Taliban took over Kabul, the status of Al Jazeera TV station in Qatar also appeared to be very "special": The media broadcasted the scenes of Taliban members in the presidential palace of Afghanistan. In addition, Al Jazeera reporters are the first foreign media to interview senior Taliban officials.
"Over the years, the Taliban has recognized that Qatar is a trusted intermediary, providing Doha with a near-monopoly access to its own," Andreas Krieger, an associate professor at King's College London, told the Voice of Turkey, "This trust and influence allows the Qataris to ensure that the Taliban does not interfere in the evacuation process and allow the US military to withdraw as smoothly as possible." He said that the United States does not seem to oppose Qatar maintaining or even deepening its contacts with the Taliban, because the relationship between Doha and the Taliban is a strategic asset.
After the withdrawal of the United States and its NATO allies from Afghanistan, they will rely more on Qatar to exert influence on the Afghan issue-after the Taliban took over Kabul, diplomats from the United States, France, Germany and other countries set up offices in Doha, the Russian Federation News Agency said that Doha has been called the "second capital" of Afghanistan ".
A few days ago, US Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin visited Qatar. For nearly half a month, Qatar has received the top leaders in foreign affairs from Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Spain and other countries. French 24-hour television said that these trends reflect the West's emphasis on Qatar and highlight its core position as a "global power broker.
The international recognition and prestige Qatar has gained in Afghan affairs has not been achieved overnight. "Voice of Turkey" said that the country has provided political asylum to the exiled Taliban leaders throughout the year. The Taliban's political office has been established in Doha since 2013 to conduct internal negotiations in Afghanistan, and maintain communication with regional countries and the international community. Wen Shaobiao, an assistant researcher at the Middle East Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that the Afghan government initially wanted to set up a negotiating office for the Taliban in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. However, the Taliban believe that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are unreliable and too close to the Afghan government, so they prefer to locate the office in the more neutral Qatar.
Egypt's "Pyramid" described the representative office in Doha as an important "Foreign Window" and "diplomatic stage" for the Taliban ", qatar has conducted almost all the important domestic peace talks in Afghanistan and the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, and has become the" only channel "for the Taliban to communicate with other countries, especially Western countries". In 2013, Qatar acted as an intermediary in the prisoner exchange negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, facilitating the conclusion of the deal. In 2020, the Trump administration and the Taliban also reached a peace agreement in Doha.
"Although it is a small country, Qatar's diplomatic ambitions are very large." Tian Wenlin, a professor at the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China and an expert on Middle East issues, told the Global Times that Qatar can be described as "small country diplomacy, the most important feature of its diplomacy is to" avoid putting eggs in one basket "and maintain contact with all parties in the Middle East. There are many hot issues in the Middle East, which means that Qatar has always had room to play.
Qatar maintains subtle interactions with the governments of Iran, Israel and other countries, while actively establishing close ties with the West, and maintaining relations with some radical groups that are unacceptable to other Middle Eastern countries, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The Economist said that Qatar has traveled in various contradictory relations for many years and is willing to play a mediating role in the negotiations of hostile factions in Yemen, Sudan and Lebanon. The Russian Federal News Agency quoted international scholar Andrei Kazantsev as saying that Qatar is pursuing global political influence and claims to be in a leading position in the Islamic world. Tian Wenlin said that from the perspective of the situation in the Middle East, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood are relatively close. "This actually has the color of competing with Saudi Arabia". In 2014, Saudi Arabia listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
What guarantees Qatar's expansion of influence is its strong financial base. wen shao Biao told the Global Times reporter said that Qatar had proven oil reserves of about 2 billion tons, world di 13, natural gas reserves of about 26 trillion cubic meters of world di 3, per capita GDP in 60,000 dollars. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt were once the centers of political mediation in the Middle East, but after the mid-1990s, Qatar has continuously transformed oil and gas wealth into political influence, helping it become a new "arbiter" of regional affairs ". However, in the view of the Japan Times, Qatar's rich oil and gas resources are also one of the reasons why it wants to strengthen its diplomatic visibility. The newspaper said that Qatar is surrounded by well-equipped competitors. It is worried that these countries covet their own natural gas fields and therefore has always believed that it is necessary to protect itself through ambitious diplomatic means.
American scholar Christine Diwan told Reuters that Qatar uses the classic means of a small country to enhance its international influence. He said that, given that Qatar has a population of only over 200 million, a large-scale military operation is a difficult task for it, so it wants to bring "real value to the relationship it maintains".
However, Qatar, which is keen on "Big diplomacy", has also suffered. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other countries announced the severance of diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed sanctions and blockades on the grounds of "supporting terrorism" and "undermining regional security. The conditions put forward by these countries to Qatar to end the severance of diplomatic relations include the withdrawal of Qatar's diplomatic presence in Iran, the termination of all military cooperation with Iran, the closure of Al Jazeera television and the suspension of an agreement to allow Turkey to station troops in Qatar, cut off ties with extremist groups such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and so on. The then US President Trump did not initially side with Qatar either.
"Now, Qatar is back." The "Japan Times" said that at the beginning of this year, Saudi Arabia and other countries ended the "embargo" measures against Qatar. Next year, Qatar will host the Football World Cup. Today, Qatar has played a prominent role in Afghanistan. Jordan's "Ming Daily" described Qatar as having fought a "diplomatic turnaround" that could make the countries that announced the severance of diplomatic relations with it in 2017, and increase the capital and bargaining chips in dealing with them, it further strengthens the relationship with them since last year.
According to the Japan Times, there are not many incidents like the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan that can bring such a big diplomatic dividend to Qatar. James Dorsey, a scholar at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said that it is helpful to be "useful" to the West. "Because of this influence, if you are threatened, the international community will stand up for you".
Some foreign media and analysts have also reminded that Qatar should not "exert too much force" and should avoid the wary and suspicion of other regional countries that have traditional influence in Afghan affairs.
Wen Shaobiao told the Global Times that Qatar does take a greater political risk if Doha is eager to recognize the Taliban regime or cannot guarantee that the Taliban will pursue an inclusive and moderate political line, then its reputation and interests may be implicated. "Turkish Voice" quoted Krieger, an associate professor at King's College London, as saying that Qatar's influence on the Taliban is not the same as its control.
"The Economist" analyzed that although Qatar plays a vital role in Afghan affairs, it may be difficult to bring many benefits to any party. How long Qatar's influence can last is also a question. With the departure of the Americans and the fall of the former Afghan government, the Taliban can govern as they wish and seek new diplomatic relations. There seems to be no negotiation to mediate. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post quoted David Roberts, a scholar at King's College London, as saying that whether Qatar can become a bridge between the Taliban and the world is a "huge unknown". Judging from the current situation, "Qatar has changed from merely providing a negotiating venue to a more active role, but it is not known how positive it is". He believes that Qatar should not take it for granted that it has influence. Before the "Arab Spring", Qatar's core advantage was relative neutrality, but later, this advantage was damaged. Reuters said that during the "Arab Spring", Qatar clearly supported the anti-government movement in many countries in the Middle East.
Some foreign media said that Qatar may hope that the economy can provide sustained influence. French 24-hour television said that Qatar may prefer to provide assistance to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, rather than direct assistance. For Qatar, the diplomatic severance crisis in 2017 highlights the importance of maintaining close relations with the United States. If unilateral assistance is provided directly to the Taliban, it may anger neighboring countries, the United States and other Western countries.
Note: This is auto-translated version of an article meant for Chinese audience. A mature and nuanced reading is suggested.