From Afghanistan to the World Cup, wealthy little Qatar is progressing


Doha, Qatar – As Chaos reigned The United States’ last-minute efforts to evacuate more than 120,000 of its citizens and partners from Afghanistan last month, a small and wealthy country that many Americans had difficulty finding on a map suddenly found itself in a unique position to help.

Qatar, a sunny, sandy peninsula in the Persian Gulf, has received about 60,000 Americans and Afghans, more than any other country. Thanks to its ties to both the United States – it hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East – and the Taliban, it is well positioned to play a powerful role as a mediator between the new Taliban-run Afghanistan and the West.

The gas-rich country, which has long used its vast wealth to surpass its weight, is facing a moment in the global spotlight.

Although it provides tons of food and medical aid to Afghanistan and hosts the US defense and state secretaries, who traveled to Qatar this week, it has made eye-catching news in the world of football, as it recently Signed by one of the greatest sports playersLionel Messi for the Paris Saint-Germain team he owns. The country is also preparing to host the FIFA World Cup next year.

“Qatar has always wanted to be a global player, whether that is by hosting mega sporting events or contracting major players, or presenting itself as a regional hub for global politics and diplomacy,” said Michael Stevens, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. An expert in Gulf politics. “They didn’t always get that balance right, but at the moment they seem to have taken the right initiatives at the right time.”

Qatar’s help won the Afghan airlift approbation From President Biden, both from Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. The second.

“Many countries have stepped up to help with evacuation and resettlement efforts in Afghanistan, but no country has done more than Qatar,” Mr. Blinken said at a news conference in Doha on Tuesday.

He added, “The partnership between Qatar and the United States has never been stronger.”

Next to him, Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, described the United States as “our most important ally.”

The sunny moment, in front of the US and Qatari Al-Alamein Bank, marked a sharp shift in bilateral relations from the previous administration, which initially supported a blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. Those countries, with the support of President Trump, accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and interfering in the internal affairs of other Arab countries, accusations denied by Qatar.

The blockade ended early this year, before Biden’s inauguration.

Now, it is Qatar’s good relations with extremist parties such as the Taliban and Iran – ties that have contributed to accusations of supporting terrorism – that have made it an invaluable medium as a mediator, allowing Qatar to promote what it calls “preventive diplomacy”.

“Sometimes the small size really allows you to play exactly that role, because you don’t scare anyone,” Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister, Lulwa Al-Khater, said in an interview. It is a small country that no one worries about. We will not wage war against anyone.”

Qatar, which is smaller than Connecticut and has fewer than 300,000 citizens, shares a huge natural gas field with Iran, whose revenues have given its people a per capita income of more than $90,000 annually, one of the highest in the world, according to CIA World Factbook.

Qatar used this money to fund and promote its vision for the region – a perspective that includes political Islamists – through Al Jazeera, its Arab satellite network, and to successfully bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Along the way, it maintained relationships with a range of Islamist groups, including So the Palestinian militants Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

These ties proved beneficial to the West, which relied on them to negotiate the release of hostages in countries such as Syria. Qatar has hosted peace talks with the Taliban, which opened an office in Doha in 2013, with the tacit permission of the United States.

Trump administration agreement with the Taliban And signed in Doha last year to set a timetable for the US withdrawal. Since the evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul last month, the US has moved its Afghan diplomatic operations to Doha.

“There is no doubt that they played their cards well,” said Mr. Stephens. “They feel that this has made them a useful ally to the West and also a communicator on broader regional issues, and that’s what they’ve always wanted.”

Qatari officials said that in recent days Qatar has delivered 68 tons of food and medical aid to the Afghan capital, Kabul. Qatari officials and technicians also traveled to Kabul to meet the Taliban and work with their counterparts from Turkey on how to reopen the city’s international airport.

Ms. Al-Khater said Qatar is using its influence to pressure the Taliban to honor their pledges of moderation.

“We are trying to encourage the Taliban to have a more inclusive government that represents everyone,” she said. “Women’s Representation, we’re not sure which part, if it’s going to be successful, but at least we’re pushing it.”

The Taliban made public assurances that it would grant amnesty to officials and soldiers of the previous government, and would allow women to work and study, activities largely banned under its previous government from 1996 to 2001, which brutally imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law. .

It remains to be seen to what extent they keep these promises. the group No full government appointed yet and has Violently suppressed women’s protests in Kabul. In other parts of the country, its fighters have been accused of going house to house to track down the old enemy, and Qatar is still in the midst of evacuation.

While about two-thirds of the evacuees have relocated to other countries, about 20,000 people remain in Qatar, which provides them with food and medical care.

Some, including Afghans who worked for media organizations such as the New York Times, have been housed in brand-new villas built for the World Cup, but most live in the many, sprawling US military base, where they get crowded, heat and limited sanitation facilities have been a problem. Main.

Ms. Al-Khater said these concerns are being addressed, and that the Qatari government and associated charities have built more shelters, hammams and field clinics and are providing more than 55,000 meals a day.

Mr Stephens, an expert on Gulf politics, said it was unclear how long Qatar would reap the benefits of its assistance in Afghanistan, but that it, like all Gulf states, was looking for ways to raise its profile in Washington.

“They all want to be in Biden’s good book,” he said. They know that this administration is not exactly keen on the Gulf states, so they want to present themselves as a force multiplier rather than a problem.

Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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