The United States and Qatar have agreed that Doha will represent the United States’ diplomatic interests in Afghanistan, the first official US representation in Kabul since the withdrawal of troops in August.
Qatar’s Secretary of State Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday signed a number of “strategic” agreements, provided that Qatar will assume the role of “protective force” for US interests in Afghanistan.
“Qatar is a vital partner in promoting regional stability,” Secretary Blinken said in comments to Al Thani at the State Department in Washington, DC.
The announcement came days after a Qatari delegation traveled to Washington to negotiate between the two nations.
Al Thani said: “We are dedicated to contributing to the stability of Afghanistan and the security and welfare of the Afghan people.”
A Qatar official involved in Friday’s agreement said: “It seems that the natural continuation of Qatar’s support for the United States in Afghanistan is to take over ‘protective power’. This will allow the United States to continue the dialogue with the Provisional Government. “
Blinken said the United States was “grateful” for its support for Afghanistan and called Qatar an “important partner” in regional stability.
“Qatar will establish a US interest section 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 second agreement formalizes our partnership with Qatar to facilitate the travel of Afghans with special US immigrant visas.”
Qatar forged close ties with the Taliban and hosted the group’s only office outside Afghanistan in 2013. Its capital, Doha, was the site of Taliban-US talks that began in 2018, resulting in an agreement signed in February 2020 that led to the withdrawal of US and NATO coalition troops.
That agreement was to lay the groundwork for intra-Afghan negotiations to lead to an inclusive government. Doha hosted several rounds of talks between representatives of Kabul and the Taliban; however, they did not bear fruit.
The Taliban seized power in Kabul on August 15 after a rapid military advance through Afghanistan as international forces withdrew after 20 years of war.
The agreements between the United States and Qatar come at a time when the United States and other countries are struggling with how to engage with the Taliban, and Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis.
“There is still a lot to do in Afghanistan and Qatar remains committed to continuing the necessary work with the United States and partners around the world,” Al Thani said.
Millions of Afghans are facing growing hunger amid soaring food prices, drought and a free fall economy, driven by lack of money, sanctions against Taliban leaders and the suspension of financial aid.
The Taliban’s victory in August led to billions of dollars in foreign aid that had kept the economy afloat. The United States froze more than 9 billion. USD in central bank reserves kept outside Afghanistan.
No country has formally recognized the Taliban. The group has withdrawn on promises of political inclusion in its government, setting women and minorities aside.
But with the harsh Afghan winter approaching, many countries have realized that they may need to coordinate with the Taliban to prevent the poor country from plunging further into disaster.
Al Thani said that “our first priority in Qatar” is to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the Afghan people. “They desperately need help.”
Qatar also played a key role in the last days of the US and NATO withdrawal.
More than half of the 124,000 people flown from Afghanistan in August transited through Qatar.
Since then, Qatar has facilitated at least 15 flights in and out of Kabul airport, which has allowed more people to get out and humanitarian aid from the international community to flow into Afghanistan.
Qatar will continue to host up to 8,000 Afghans who have applied for entry into the United States and their eligible family members in the U.S. Army Camp As Sayliyah and Al Udeid Air Base, a State Department official told Reuters news service.
The issue of Americans being left behind in Afghanistan is a sensitive issue for the administration of US President Joe Biden, who has been criticized for the chaotic withdrawal.
“All U.S. citizens who have requested assistance from the U.S. government to leave Afghanistan and who we have identified as ready to travel and have the necessary travel documents have been offered an opportunity to do so,” Blinken said Friday.
Blinken acknowledged that there are Americans who have stayed in Afghanistan because they have family there or do not want to travel. Some change their minds about leaving, he said.
“This is an effort that will continue. It is also an image that is changing at regular intervals,” he said.
Ali Latifi contributed to this report.