This week, Qatar and the United States have signed two strategic agreements that empower the Qatari government to represent US interests in Afghanistan. This will be the United States’s first official representation since US troops withdrew from Kabul in August.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani announced the agreements on Friday, noting that Qatar will protect “power” for US interests within Afghan borders. The announcement came just days after diplomats from Qatar began talks with the US in Washington.
During the announcement, Secretary of State Blinken said, “Qatar is a crucial partner in promoting regional stability.” Al Thani reinforced Blinken’s words: “We are dedicated to contributing to the stability of Afghanistan and the safety and wellbeing of the Afghan people.”
The agreement comes in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the previous government’s collapse after the Taliban seized the capital and established a new government in Kabul. Taliban-installed officials immediately reneged on pledges of political inclusivity and reintroduced discriminatory legislation targeting women and minorities. In response, the US froze more than $9 billion held outside of Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban seized power, the US has been looking for ways to maintain a relationship with Afghanistan and to protect its interests there. Secretary Blinken recognized Qatar as a key part in that goal. “Qatar will establish a US interests section within its embassy in Afghanistan to provide certain consular services and monitor the condition and security of US diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan.”
A second agreement between the US and Qatar was signed that “formalizes [their] partnership…to facilitate the travel of Afghans with US Special Immigrant Visas.”
As of now, no country has formally recognized the Taliban as the legitimate leaders of Afghanistan. However, with a potentially severe Afghan winter on the horizon, many nations around the world have begun working with the Taliban to protect the Afghan people from a humanitarian crisis.
Qatar is uniquely equipped for this role since it has maintained a close relationship with the United States and the Taliban. In 2018, Doha, Qatar’s capital, hosted the negotiations between the US and the Taliban which eventually led to the withdrawal of US and NATO troops. Afterward, Qatar arranged several opportunities for factions within Afghanistan to work together to form an inclusive government. Unfortunately, talks between the Taliban and more moderate Afghans broke down.
Secretary Blinken and the rest of the Biden Administration are hoping that this new role for Qatar will help the US deal with the problems created by the 2021 withdrawal. Blinken acknowledged the problem of US citizens who were left behind during the agreement’s announcement.
Blinken said, “All US citizens who have requested assistance from the United States government to departy Afghanistan, and who we’ve identified as prepared to depart and having the necessary travel documents, have been offered an opportunity to do so… This is an effort that will continue.”