Blinken says Qatar should act as the US diplomatic representative in Afghanistan

  • Biden says Qatar will set up a US branch of interest at its embassy in Afghanistan
  • The section will coordinate closely with the U.S. State Department
  • The agreement enters into force on 31 December
  • The United States is among countries that are reluctant to formally recognize the Taliban

WASHINGTON, November 12 (Reuters) – The United States and Qatar on Friday signed an agreement that Qatar represents US diplomatic interests in Afghanistan, an important signal of possible future direct engagement between Washington and the Taliban after two decades of war.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, signed the agreement making Qatar the US “protective force” in Afghanistan at a Foreign Ministry ceremony after holding negotiations.

“Qatar will establish a US Department of Interest within its embassy in Afghanistan to provide certain consular services and monitor the state and security of US diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan,” Blinken said.

The movement will further strengthen ties between Washington and the small, prosperous Gulf monarchy, which forged close ties with the Taliban by hosting the militants’ only official office outside Afghanistan and by playing a key role in the negotiations leading to the 2020 agreement on U.S. troops are withdrawing this year.

The deal comes as the United States and other Western countries are battling over how to engage with the hardline Islamists after taking over Afghanistan in lightning progress in August as US-led forces were nearing completion of their withdrawal.

The United States and other Western countries closed their embassies and withdrew their diplomats when the Taliban captured Kabul, after which the militants declared an interim government whose top members are under sanctions from the United States and the United Nations.

The United States, European countries, and others are reluctant to formally recognize the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, accusing them of reverting to promises of political and ethnic inclusion and of upholding the rights of women and minorities.

But now that winter is approaching, many governments are realizing that they need to get more involved in preventing the deeply poor country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Under the new agreement, which takes effect on December 31, Qatar will dedicate certain staff from its embassy in Afghanistan to a US interest section and will coordinate closely with the US State Department and with the US mission in Doha.

A senior State Department official said the United States would also continue its engagement with the Taliban’s political office in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

A military helicopter is pictured flying over Kabul, Afghanistan November 4, 2021.REUTERS / Zohra Bensemra / File Photo

Consular assistance may include accepting passport applications, offering notarial services for documentation, providing information and assisting in emergencies, the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

“The protective power regime predicts that Qatar will facilitate any formal communication between the United States and Afghanistan,” the senior U.S. official said.

SECOND AGREEMENT

Millions of Afghans are facing growing hunger amid soaring food prices, drought and a free fall economy, driven by a lack of hard cash, sanctions against Taliban leaders and the suspension of financial aid.

The Taliban’s victory meant that the billions of dollars in foreign aid that had kept the economy afloat were suddenly extinguished, with more than $ 9 billion in central bank reserves frozen outside the country.

In another agreement with Washington, Qatar will continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 vulnerable Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas (SIV) and their eligible family members, the U.S. official said.

“SIV applicants will be accommodated at Camp As Sayliyah and al-Udeid Air Base,” the official said.

At a press conference following the signing of the agreements, Blinken praised Qatar for helping with the ongoing evacuations of US citizens, green card holders and SIV applicants.

Qatar, he said, was allowed to transit through Doha about half of the 124,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan since August in the hastily arranged and chaotic U.S. evacuation operation.

Since then, Qatar has funded at least 15 Qatar Airways evacuation flights by hundreds of U.S. citizens and others and will continue to offer charter flights to SIV holders and other Afghans, he said.

Tens of thousands of Afghans who potentially risk retaliation from the Taliban to help the United States and its allies or work for foreign organizations remain in Afghanistan.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay. Additional reporting by Simon Lewis. Edited by Robert Birsel and Raissa Kasolowsky

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