Qatar to act as U.S. diplomatic representative in Afghanistan

The United States and Qatar have agreed that Qatar will represent US diplomatic interests in Afghanistan, a senior US official told Reuters, an important sign of a possible direct engagement between Washington and Kabul in the future after two decades of war.

Qatar will sign an agreement with the United States on Friday to assume the role of “protective power” of American interests to help facilitate any formal communication between Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which the United States does not recognize.

The move comes at a time when the United States and other Western countries are grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after the hardline group seized Afghanistan in a blitzkrieg in August, as US-led forces they were retiring after two decades of war.

Many countries, including the United States and European states, are reluctant to formally recognize the Taliban, as critics say they are backtracking on their promises of political and ethnic inclusion and not neglecting women and minorities.

But as winter approaches, many countries realize they need to commit more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from sinking into humanitarian catastrophe.

Taliban fighters check on wounded comrades at the entrance to the emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, November 2, 2021 (credit: REUTERS / ZOHRA BENSEMRA)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the deal with his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, at a press conference after their meeting on Friday.

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

The US official said the United States will also continue its engagement with the Taliban through the Qatari capital Doha, where the Taliban have held a political office for years.

“As our protecting power, Qatar will help the United States provide limited consular services to our citizens and protect American interests in Afghanistan,” said the senior State Department official, who spoke on the sensitive issue on condition of anonymity.

Consular assistance may include accepting passport applications, offering notarial services for documentation, providing information and assisting in emergencies, the US official said.

The US Interests Section will operate from certain facilities in the complex in Kabul used by the US embassy. Before the suspension of operations, the State Department official said, adding that Qatar would monitor properties in the complex and would conduct security patrols.

Millions of Afghans face increasing hunger amid rising food prices, a drought and an economy in free fall, fueled by a cash shortage, sanctions on Taliban leaders and the suspension of much of the financial help.

The Taliban’s victory in August saw the billions of dollars in foreign aid that had kept the economy afloat abruptly off, with more than $ 9 billion in central bank reserves frozen outside the country.

In a separate deal, Qatar will continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 at-risk Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas (SIVs) and their eligible family members, the US official said.

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

The US occupation of Afghanistan, which lasted two decades, culminated in August in a hastily organized airlift in which more than 124,000 civilians, including Americans, Afghans and others, were evacuated when the Taliban took power. But thousands of US-allied Afghans at risk of persecution from the Taliban were left behind.

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