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Afghanistan between Iran and Qatar
Published in Ahram Online on 28 - 04 - 2020

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the princely state of Qatar may only have one thing in common: Iran is under sanctions from the US, and Qatar is under sanctions from four countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The people of the Middle East have suffered from Qatar's policies that have seen it backing extremist armed Sunni groups and the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and Hamas, Turkey, and Iran on the other. The people of Afghanistan have also suffered from Qatar's support for the terrorist group the Taliban.
The Taliban were defeated by a US-led Coalition in 2001, and the group has since been unable to unfurl its terrorist banners. Seven years ago, however, the banners of the Taliban were unfurled in Doha in Qatar when the group opened its offices there in June 2013 that were on the level of an official embassy. Qatar allowed the group to fly banners proclaiming the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
The anger shown by then Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the people of Afghanistan was able to bring these banners down. But the offices were allowed to operate with implicit US approval and the understanding that they were there to further peace talks.
In Afghanistan, there is much distrust of Qatar due to its policy on the Taliban, and as a result Qatar Airways has yet to be allowed to fly directly to Kabul, despite Afghanistan's need for such connections.
This background is essential to bear in mind when analysing the recent telephone call between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif and his Qatari counterpart. According to the Iranian media, Zarif and the Qatari foreign minister discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan and Iran's attempts to bring about a “political understanding” and form a “broad government” in Kabul.
The failure of the peace deal between the Taliban and US representative Zalmay Khalizad has been much discussed. This showed that Qatar's goal is not to bring about peace but to push forward its own political and ideological ambitions and to continue supporting extremist and terrorist groups.
According to figures from Kabul, terrorist attacks by the Taliban have increased since the inking of the deal. Over the last 51 days, there have been 2,800 attacks in Afghanistan claimed by the Taliban, which have led to 789 civilians being killed or injured.
Questions have been raised as to why Qatar, which hosts some of the biggest terrorists in the world such as Mullah Abdel-Ghani Baradar and others on the UN terrorist list, has not asked these figures to leave Qatar or closed down their offices after they broke the peace deal.
Taliban fighters released from jail and sent to Qatar are now back and fighting in Afghanistan, according to a tweet by Rahmatollah Nabil, a former Afghan security official. They include relatives of deputy Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, including his brother and uncle, Nabil said.
The Afghan people and government were unhappy that Qatar was allowed to open an embassy in Kabul last year. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani agreed to let it do so under pressure from Abdul- Rasul Sayyaf, a well-known Islamist commander-turned-politician who was an important electoral ally.
Qatar had conditioned acceptance of the accreditation of the Afghan ambassador to Doha, who has political ties to Sayyaf, to permission to open a Kabul embassy. In his five years as Afghanistan's president, Ghani has repeatedly asked the Americans to close the Taliban office in Qatar.
For many commentators, it is striking that the Iranian and Qatari foreign ministers are now talking about forming a “broad government” in Afghanistan. Qatar has repeatedly claimed that it is only hosting the Taliban's offices and that it does not interfere in internal Afghan affairs. Iran, on the other hand, seems intent on backing Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's defeated presidential elections candidate.
Iran now wants to use the failed Qatari-sponsored Taliban peace deal as an excuse to further its own aims under the pretext of a “broad government” in Afghanistan. It wants to be part of the negotiations and to gain concessions from Ghani.
Since the Taliban offices opened in Qatar, the people of Afghanistan have seen nothing but more war and bloodshed. The Taliban did not even agree on a ceasefire during the Holy month of Ramadan, and all Iran cares about is forming a “broad government” in Kabul in line with Tehran's interests. Pressed on both sides by the revanchism of Iran and Qatar are the innocent people of Afghanistan.
What human-rights bodies and the UN agree on is the fact that the terrorists of the Taliban have killed more Afghans than any other terrorist group, and most of these crimes have happened after the Taliban opened their Doha offices.
How do the people of Afghanistan see Qatar? A peace-supporting angel of salvation or an angel of death that brings them more destruction, suicide attacks and explosions?

*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: United we stand

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