DOHA, Qatar — As chaos took over the USA’ last-minute efforts to evacuate greater than 120,000 of its residents and companions from Afghanistan final month, a tiny, rich nation that many People would wrestle to search out on a map abruptly discovered itself uniquely positioned to assist out.
Qatar, a sandy, sun-baked peninsula within the Persian Gulf, obtained about 60,000 People and Afghans, greater than another nation. And with its ties to each the USA — it hosts the most important American navy base within the Center East — and the Taliban, it’s effectively positioned to play a robust position as an middleman between the brand new Taliban-run Afghanistan and the West.
The gas-rich nation, which has lengthy used its large wealth to punch above its weight, is having a second on the earth highlight.
Even because it delivers tons of meals and medical help to Afghanistan and hosts the American secretaries of protection and state, who flew to Qatar this week, it has made attention-grabbing information on the earth of soccer, the place it just lately signed one of the sport’s greatest players, Lionel Messi, to the Paris St.-Germain staff it owns. The nation can also be set to host the soccer World Cup subsequent 12 months.
“Qatar has all the time wished to be a worldwide participant, whether or not that’s internet hosting big sports activities occasions or signing main gamers, or presenting itself as a regional linchpin for international politics and diplomacy,” stated Michael Stephens, a senior fellow on the Overseas Coverage Analysis Institute and an skilled on Gulf politics. “They haven’t all the time acquired this stability proper, however in the mean time they appear to have taken the fitting initiatives on the proper time.”
Qatar’s assist in the Afghan airlift gained plaudits from President Biden, and each Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Protection Lloyd J. Austin III arrived within the Qatari capital, Doha, on Monday, the place they dined with the nation’s 41-year-old monarch, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
“Many nations have stepped as much as assist the evacuation and relocation efforts in Afghanistan, however no nation has achieved greater than Qatar,” Mr. Blinken stated at a information convention in Doha on Tuesday.
“The partnership between Qatar and the USA has by no means been stronger,” he added.
Standing beside him, Qatar’s international minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, referred to as the USA “our most essential ally.”
The sunny second, earlier than a financial institution of American and Qatari flags, marked a pointy turnaround in bilateral relations from the earlier administration, which had initially supported a blockade in opposition to Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. These nations, backed by President Trump, accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and interfering within the inner affairs of different Arab states, accusations that Qatar denied.
The blockade ended early this 12 months, earlier than Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
Now it’s Qatar’s good relations with outliers just like the Taliban and Iran — relations that contributed to the accusations of supporting terrorism — which have made it invaluable as a go-between, permitting Qatar to advertise what it calls “preventive diplomacy.”
“Typically, a small measurement permits you really to play precisely that position, as a result of you aren’t intimidating anybody,” Qatar’s assistant international minister, Lolwah Al-Khater, stated in an interview. “It’s a small nation that nobody is frightened about. We aren’t going to wage a battle in opposition to anybody.”
Qatar, which is smaller than Connecticut and has about 300,000 residents, shares an enormous pure gasoline area with Iran, whose proceeds have given its folks a per-capita revenue of greater than $90,000 per 12 months, one of many world’s highest, in line with the C.I.A. World Factbook.
Qatar has used that cash to bankroll and promote its view of the area — one that features political Islamists — by means of Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite tv for pc community it owns, and to area the profitable bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Alongside the best way, it has maintained ties with a spread of Islamist teams, together with the Palestinian militants Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
These ties have proved helpful to the West, which has leaned on them to barter hostage releases in nations corresponding to Syria. And Qatar hosted peace talks with the Taliban, which opened an workplace in Doha in 2013, with tacit permission from the USA.
The Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban setting a timetable for the American withdrawal was signed in Doha final 12 months. And because the American embassy in Kabul was evacuated final month, the USA has moved its Afghan diplomatic operations to Doha.
“There is no such thing as a doubt that they’ve performed their playing cards effectively,” Mr. Stephens stated. “They really feel that this has positioned them as being a helpful ally to the West and likewise as an interlocutor on wider regional points, and that’s what they all the time wished.”
In latest days, Qatar has delivered 68 tons of meals and medical help to the Afghan capital, Kabul, Qatari officers stated. Qatari officers and technicians have additionally flown to Kabul to fulfill with the Taliban and work with their counterparts from Turkey on methods to reopen town’s worldwide airport.
Perceive the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who’re the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Right here’s extra on their origin story and their record as rulers.
And Qatar is utilizing its leverage to press the Taliban to make good on its vows of moderation, Ms. Al-Khater stated.
“We are attempting to encourage the Taliban to have a extra inclusive authorities that represents everybody,” she stated. “Girls illustration, we aren’t positive about that half, if it’s going to achieve success, however not less than we’re pushing.”
The Taliban have made public assurances that they might grant amnesty to officers and troopers of the previous authorities, and would permit ladies to work and examine, actions largely banned underneath its earlier authorities from 1996 to 2001, which brutally enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic regulation.
How effectively they stay as much as these guarantees stays to be seen. The group has yet to name a complete government and has violently suppressed protests by women in Kabul. In different components of the nation, its fighters have been accused of going house-to-house to trace down outdated foeAt residence, Qatar continues to be within the throes of the evacuation.
Whereas about two thirds of the evacuees have moved on to different nations, about 20,000 are nonetheless in Qatar, which has been offering them with meals and medical care.
A few of them, together with Afghans who labored for media organizations corresponding to The New York Occasions, have been housed in brand-new villas constructed for the World Cup, however most reside in Al Udeid, the sprawling United States navy base, the place crowding, warmth and restricted sanitation amenities have been main issues.
Ms. Al-Khater stated these considerations are being addressed, and that the Qatari authorities and related charities have constructed extra shelters, bogs and area clinics and are offering greater than 55,000 meals per day.
Mr. Stephens, the Gulf politics skilled, stated it was unclear how lengthy Qatar would reap the advantages of its assist in Afghanistan however that, like all of the Gulf states, it was searching for methods to boost its standing in Washington.
“All of them wish to be in Biden’s good e book,” he stated. “They know that this administration is just not totally eager on the Gulf states, in order that they wish to current themselves as a pressure multiplier quite than an issue.”
Michael Crowley contributed reporting.