Afghanistan crisis cements Qatari global influence

Kabul: Political leaders have flocked to Doha and some countries have moved their Kabul embassies to Qatar, all praising their host for its key role in the airlift out of the Afghan capital.

Tiny Qatar has seized the moment, cementing its outsize global influence and reputation as a neutral mediator after winning the trust of all sides in Afghanistan's forever war, AFP reported.

Qatar invited the Taliban to open a political office in Doha in 2013, with then US president Barack Obama's blessing as conflict in Afghanistan raged.

It went on to host talks between Washington and the Taliban that concluded in 2020 with a troop withdrawal agreement, followed by direct negotiations between the former insurgents and Afghan government.

Doha's long-standing hotline to the Taliban ultimately helped Qatar burst onto the world stage as the lynchpin of efforts to evacuate desperate Afghans and foreigners -- and now the push to reopen Kabul airport.

"The Qataris have earned a reputation as honest brokers who are willing to help multiple warring parties to a find a way to end these conflicts," said Colin Clarke, senior research fellow at the Soufan Center.

"I think what Qatar got out of it was a growing recognition that Doha is the place to make a deal. It has grown into the Geneva of the Middle East, a place where warring parties can meet on neutral territory."

In little more than a week, the Arabian desert peninsula will have welcomed the foreign ministers of Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Britain and the US.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, due in Doha on Monday, has already expressed "profound gratitude" for Qatar's evacuation of foreigners and Afghans vulnerable to reprisals from the Islamist hardliners.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab lauded the dramatic airlift, in which Doha has served as a key transit stop, saying "the biggest operation of its kind in our living memory (was) in no small part because of the cooperation of our Qatari friends".

While in Doha, where Britain has relocated its Kabul embassy, Raab described Qatar as "an influential player" and its ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani as

a "friend".

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