Can The UAE And Qatar Bring The Taliban To The Table At Doha III?

Can The UAE And Qatar Bring The Taliban To The Table At Doha III?

As things stand today, both Qatar and UAE are of great significance from the Taliban’s perspective

SNM AbdiUpdated: Monday, June 10, 2024, 08:29 PM IST
article-image
Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani | File/AFP

Although no country in the world has yet recognised the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers, the international community seems to have no hesitation in condemning and embracing Afghanistan on a case-to-case basis.

In the last few days, on the one hand, the world vehemently reprimanded the Taliban regime for the public flogging of Afghan men and women in a packed sports stadium in the northern Sari Pul province. And on the other, the ruler of United Arab Emirates, Mohamed bin Zayed, publicly welcomed the Taliban government’s Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, in Abu Dhabi’s Qasr al-Shati palace despite the $10 million FBI bounty on his head. The United States, no less, turned a blind eye to the red carpet welcome accorded to the wanted man by a friendly ally like the UAE, citing the “complex relationship countries, particularly those in the region, have with the Taliban” — a dead giveaway of Washington’s own overt and covert engagement with the government in Kabul.

Among the 63 Afghans who were whipped this month in a packed stadium for crimes ranging from theft and cheating to adultery and sodomy, there were as many as 14 women who were lashed. According to media reports, after being lashed between 15 and 39 times, the convicts were casually examined by doctors for injuries and sent back to prison to complete their Supreme Court-ratified sentences.

After seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban have carried out floggings, stonings and executions by gunfire in a brazen repetition of the corporal punishment meted out during their previous rule in the 1990s. There have been five public executions since the Taliban recaptured power three years ago. Last February, a man convicted of murder was shot five times with a rifle by the brother of the murdered man in the presence of clerics, judges and ordinary people in a stadium in Jawzjan province.

The recent floggings were immediately decried by the United Nations — which called it “deeply disturbing” — and global human rights groups who demanded that they stop the barbaric practice right away. But the Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, shrugged off the international criticism and justified the flogging citing the Islamic criminal justice system. Cocking a snook at the whole world, he said that no power on earth can shake Afghans’ commitment to the tenets of Islam.

Soon after the mass floggings which were globally censured, Haqqani accompanied by the Taliban’s spy chief, Abdul Haq Wasiq, flew to Abu Dhabi for meetings with Zayed to discuss “strengthening the bonds of cooperation between the two countries and ways to enhance ties to serve mutual interests and contribute to regional stability”. The agenda was delightfully vague but the duo’s arrival was nonetheless covered by UAE’s official news agency, WAM, which also released photos of smiling Haqqani shaking hands with Zayed. Besides the $10 million FBI bounty for capturing Haqqani dead or alive, both Haqqani and Wasiq — who was imprisoned for years in the US military’s notorious Guantanamo Bay detention centre before being released in 2014 — are still subjects of UN Security Council sanctions that include asset freezes and foreign travel bans.

It is possible that Haqqani and Wasiq sought and were granted temporary exemptions from the UN Security Council travel ban for performing Haj in Mecca, but even then the head of an affluent Gulf nation — known for its proximity to the United States and other Western countries — openly hosting two specially designated global terrorists is very intriguing indeed. I am told that among other things it is a precursor of the launch of regular passenger flights between Abu Dhabi-Dubai and Kabul to throw open secluded and ostracised Afghanistan to the world at large.

Notably, Haqqani’s mysterious visit to UAE has preceded the third summit on Afghanistan which Doha, capital of Qatar, is getting ready to host from June 30-July 1. The summit, convened by the United Nations, will bring together Special Envoys for Afghanistan to increase, facilitate and coordinate the world’s engagement with the war and insurgency-ravaged nation at a time when it is grappling with one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world triggered by the Taliban takeover.

As things stand today, both Qatar and UAE are of great significance from the Taliban’s perspective. The Taliban’s Political Office operates from Doha which was the venue of open and secret talks between the Taliban and Americans for a long period. The landmark February 2020 accord which led to the withdrawal of US-NATO military forces from Afghanistan was signed in Doha raising its profile internationally. While there is no doubt that Qatar has played a key role in the resolution of the Afghan conflict so far, UAE is currently providing refuge to Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani who the Taliban overthrew in August 2021, providing the UAE some leverage and say in the affairs of Afghanistan.

The Taliban have laid down specific conditions for participating in the two-day international conference, or Doha III. They boycotted the first two editions claiming that the world’s overall approach to Afghanistan is deeply problematic. Among the conditions that they have laid down for taking part in the upcoming meeting is that the UN Security Council should stop labelling the Taliban as a terrorist organisation. The tag obviously has its merits and demerits. It is left to be seen if UAE and Qatar can find a middle path acceptable to Kabul, as well as Special Envoys for meaningful discussions which can lift Afghanistan from the morass it is sinking into and fast-track the diplomatic recognition of Taliban rule.

The author is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics

RECENT STORIES

The Testing Fiasco Calls For Radical Overhaul And Reforms

The Testing Fiasco Calls For Radical Overhaul And Reforms

Ajit Doval’s ICET Advocacy Is Ominously Opaque

Ajit Doval’s ICET Advocacy Is Ominously Opaque

Editorial: Tough times ahead for govt in 18th Lok Sabha

Editorial: Tough times ahead for govt in 18th Lok Sabha

What India Can Learn From The Streets Of Bangkok And Beaches In Bali

What India Can Learn From The Streets Of Bangkok And Beaches In Bali

Neighbourhood Diplomacy: Dhaka, India’s Only Best Friend?

Neighbourhood Diplomacy: Dhaka, India’s Only Best Friend?