After the US withdrawal, Qatar emerges as a key player in Afghanistan

Qatar played a significant role in the U.S. effort to evacuate tens and thousands of Afghan civilians. Because of its close ties to both Washington and Taliban in Kabul, the tiny Gulf Arab country is being asked for help in shaping Afghanistan's future.

After the US withdrawal, Qatar emerges as a key player in Afghanistan

On Monday, Qatar will join the global heavyweights when U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken hosts an online meeting to discuss a coordinated approach in the days ahead as the U.S. pulls out from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. Canada, France and Germany will be present as well as Italy, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and NATO.

Qatar has also been in discussions about providing civil technical assistance to Taliban at Kabul’s international airport, once the U.S. military withdraws on Tuesday.

The Associated Press was informed by Qatar's Foreign Ministry that it participated in negotiations regarding the operation of Kabul's airport. These negotiations included the United States, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Qatar stated that its primary goal is to restore regular operations and maintain safety and security at the airport facilities.

In the meantime, U.N. agencies from around the world are asking Qatar to help deliver aid to Afghanistan.

The unexpected role of Qatar was not expected. Qatar, which has a border with Saudi Arabia on the land and an enormous Persian Gulf gas field with Iran, was meant to serve as a transit point for just a few thousand Afghans who were being airlifted from Afghanistan. This took place over several months.

The United States turned to Qatar for assistance after the Taliban tookover of Kabul, Aug. 15.

Nearly 40% of all evacuees were evacuated via Qatar at the end. This won Washington high praise. International media outlets relied on Qatar to help with staff evacuations. According to the United States, 113,500 Afghans had been evacuated since August 14. Qatar claims that 43,000 people have passed through Qatar.

Qatar's role in the evacuations reflects its position as host of the Middle East's biggest U.S. military base, but also its decision years ago to host the Taliban's political leadership in exile, giving it some sway with the militant group. The U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks were also held in Qatar.

Lolwa al-Khater, assistant Qatari foreign minister, acknowledged Qatar's political gains in recent weeks but denied that Qatar was only strategic.

She told The Associated Press that if anyone thinks it's all about political gain, they should be aware that there are PR methods that are much easier than risking their people on the ground. They are also far less difficult than having to sleep for two weeks and spending time caring for every child and every pregnant woman.

Qatar was able to conduct the rescue operation in Afghanistan with only a few hundred troops and its military aircraft. Qatar evacuated a girls' school, an all-girls robotics group, and journalists for international media. The ambassador of Qatar accompanied buses as they passed through several Taliban checkpoints in Kabul, and then past many Western military checkpoints at the Airport, where large crowds were trying to flee.

Al-Khater stated that Qatar was able to provide passage to the airport for approximately 3,000 passengers and that it also airlifted up to 1,500 people after receiving requests from international organisations and having their names verified.

Al-Khater stated that Qatar is uniquely positioned due to its ability to communicate with various parties on ground and willingness to escort people through Taliban-controlled Kabul.

She said that the trip was not about making a phone call with Taliban. You have checkpoints from the U.S., British, NATO, and Turkish sides... and we have all these variables and factors to consider.

All those still in Afghanistan have been promised amnesty by the Taliban. Many of those who are desperate to escape -- including those working for Western armies, civil society activists, and women fearful to lose their hard-won rights - say that they don't trust the Taliban. Other armed groups are also a growing threat. A suicide bomber from Islamic State attacked Kabul's airport last week and killed more than 180 people.

The U.S.-led evacuation effort was marred by chaos and miscalculations, which spilled over into the al-Udeid base at Qatar.

Al-Udeid's hangars were so full that flights from Kabul were halted for several hours by the United States during peak evacuation efforts on August 20. To relieve pressure on the American base, several thousand people were accepted by neighbouring countries like Bahrain and UAE.

Al-Udeid was where Afghan families were evacuated by the U.S. They waited hours in humid, poorly ventilated hangars in the middle the desert without adequate cooling. A video posted by The Washington Post showed hundreds of evacuees in one such hangar with only one lavatory and people sleeping on the ground.

Qatar constructed an emergency field hospital, shelters, and portable washrooms in order to fill the gaps. The U.S. military distributes food, but the Qatari military also gives out meals. Local charities receive more. Qatar Airways also provides 10 aircraft for evacuations.

Qatar still has around 20,000 refugees. Some are expecting to leave within weeks, while others will wait months as they await resettlement elsewhere. Since arriving in Qatar, seven Afghan women have given birth to babies.

Qatar is only accepting a small number of evacuees. One exception to this is a group of female students, who will receive scholarships to continue their education at Doha. Some evacuees are also being accommodated in furnished apartments in Qatar, which were built for the FIFA World Cup.

This energy-rich country is tiny with just over 300,000. It has a small population of about 300,000. Expats from abroad are often granted temporary visas to work in the country.

According to the White House, President Joe Biden called Qatar's Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, 41 years old, and expressed gratitude. He also noted that the U.S.-led aeriallift would not be possible without Qatar's support in facilitating the daily transfer of thousands of people.

This is the kind of positive publicity millions of dollars could not guarantee for Gulf Arab states through lobbying and public relations.

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