From Afghanistan to the World Cup, Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Steps Up

DOHA, Qatar — As chaos took over the United States’ last-minute efforts to evacuate greater than 120,000 of its residents and companions from Afghanistan final month, a tiny, rich nation that many Americans would wrestle to discover on a map all of the sudden discovered itself uniquely positioned to assist out.

Qatar, a sandy, sun-baked peninsula in the Persian Gulf, obtained about 60,000 Americans and Afghans, greater than some other nation. And with its ties to each the United States — it hosts the largest American navy base in the Middle East — and the Taliban, it’s properly positioned to play a robust position as an middleman between the new Taliban-run Afghanistan and the West.

The gas-rich nation, which has lengthy used its super wealth to punch above its weight, is having a second in the world 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 in the world of soccer, the place it not too long ago signed one among the sport’s best gamers, Lionel Messi, to the Paris St.-Germain crew it owns. The nation can be set to host the soccer World Cup subsequent yr.

“Qatar has always wanted to be a global player, whether that is hosting huge sports events or signing major players, or presenting itself as a regional linchpin for global politics and diplomacy,” stated Michael Stephens, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and an knowledgeable on Gulf politics. “They have not always got this balance right, but at the moment they seem to have taken the right initiatives at the right time.”

Qatar’s assist in the Afghan airlift gained plaudits from President Biden, and each Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III arrived in 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 countries have stepped up to help the evacuation and relocation efforts in Afghanistan, but no country has done more than Qatar,” Mr. Blinken stated at a information convention in Doha on Tuesday.

“The partnership between Qatar and the United States has never been stronger,” he added.

Standing beside him, Qatar’s overseas minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, referred to as the United States “our most important ally.”

VideoSecretary of State Antony J. Blinken, talking in Qatar, stated the United States was working with the Taliban to deliver residence about 100 U.S. residents nonetheless in Afghanistan.CreditCredit…Pool picture by Olivier Douliery

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. Those international locations, backed by President Trump, accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and interfering in the inner affairs of different Arab states, accusations that Qatar denied.

The blockade ended early this yr, earlier than Mr. Biden’s inauguration.

Now it’s Qatar’s good relations with outliers 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 promote what it calls “preventive diplomacy.”

“Sometimes, a small size allows you actually to play exactly that role, because you are not intimidating anyone,” Qatar’s assistant overseas minister, Lolwah Al-Khater, stated in an interview. “It’s a small country that no one is worried about. We are not going to wage a war against anyone.”

Qatar, which is smaller than Connecticut and has about 300,000 residents, shares an enormous pure fuel discipline with Iran, whose proceeds have given its individuals a per-capita earnings of greater than $90,000 per yr, one among the world’s highest, in accordance to the C.I.A. World Factbook.

Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan ›

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Updated Sept. 7, 2021, 1:43 p.m. ETAided by worldwide companions, the Taliban are working to restore operations at the Kabul airport.Women peacefully protesting in Kabul had been crushed by the Taliban.The Taliban’s new authorities seems very very like its outdated one.

Qatar has used that cash to bankroll and promote its view of the area — one that features political Islamists — by Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite tv for pc community it owns, and to discipline the profitable bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Along the approach, it has maintained ties with a variety 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 negotiate hostage releases in international locations equivalent to Syria. And Qatar hosted peace talks with the Taliban, which opened an workplace in Doha in 2013, with tacit permission from the United States.

The Trump administration’s settlement with the Taliban setting a timetable for the American withdrawal was signed in Doha final yr. And since the American embassy in Kabul was evacuated final month, the United States has moved its Afghan diplomatic operations to Doha.

“There is no doubt that they have played their cards well,” Mr. Stephens stated. “They feel that this has placed them as being a useful ally to the West and also as an interlocutor on wider regional issues, and that is what they always wanted.”

Peace talks between the Afghan authorities and the Taliban had been held in Qatar final yr. Credit…Karim Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In current 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 meet with the Taliban and work with their counterparts from Turkey on how to reopen the metropolis’s worldwide airport.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

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Who are 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. Here’s extra on their origin story and their file as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the high leaders of the Taliban, males who’ve spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is understood about them or how they plan to govern, together with whether or not they are going to be as tolerant as they declare to be. One spokesman informed The Times that the group wished to neglect its previous, however that there can be some restrictions.

How did the Taliban acquire management? See how the Taliban retook energy in Afghanistan in a number of months, and examine how their technique enabled them to achieve this.

What occurs to the ladies of Afghanistan? The final time the Taliban had been in energy, they barred ladies and ladies from taking most jobs or going to faculty. Afghan ladies have made many positive aspects since the Taliban had been toppled, however now they worry that floor could also be misplaced. Taliban officers are attempting to reassure ladies that issues will probably be totally different, however there are indicators that, not less than in some areas, they’ve begun to reimpose the outdated order.

What does their victory imply for terrorist teams? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years in the past in response to terrorism, and lots of fear that Al Qaeda and different radical teams will once more discover protected haven there. On Aug. 26, lethal explosions exterior Afghanistan’s most important airport claimed by the Islamic State demonstrated that terrorists stay a menace.

How will this have an effect on future U.S. coverage in the area? Washington and the Taliban might spend years pulled between cooperation and battle, Some of the key points at hand embody: how to cooperate in opposition to a mutual enemy, the Islamic State department in the area, often known as ISIS-Okay, and whether or not the U.S. ought to launch $9.four billion in Afghan authorities foreign money reserves which are frozen in the nation.

And Qatar is utilizing its leverage to press the Taliban to make good on its vows of moderation, Ms. Al-Khater stated.

“We are trying to encourage the Taliban to have a more inclusive government that represents everyone,” she stated. “Women representation, we are not sure about that part, if it’s going to be successful, but at least we are pushing.”

The Taliban have made public assurances that they might grant amnesty to officers and troopers of the former authorities, and would enable ladies to work and research, actions largely banned below its earlier authorities from 1996 to 2001, which brutally enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic legislation.

How properly they dwell up to these guarantees stays to be seen. The group has but to title an entire authorities and has violently suppressed protests by ladies in Kabul. In different components of the nation, its fighters have been accused of going house-to-house to monitor down outdated foes.

At residence, Qatar remains to be in the throes of the evacuation.

While about two thirds of the evacuees have moved on to different international locations, about 20,000 are nonetheless in Qatar, which has been offering them with meals and medical care.

Some of them, together with Afghans who labored for media organizations equivalent to The New York Times, have been housed in brand-new villas constructed for the World Cup, however most live in Al Udeid, the sprawling United States navy base, the place crowding, warmth and restricted sanitation services 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, loos and discipline clinics and are offering greater than 55,000 meals per day.

Afghan evacuees in a residential compound in Doha final month.Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

Mr. Stephens, the Gulf politics knowledgeable, stated it was unclear how lengthy Qatar would reap the advantages of its assist in Afghanistan however that, like all the Gulf states, it was looking for methods to increase its standing in Washington.

“They all want to be in Biden’s good book,” he stated. “They know that this administration is not entirely keen on the Gulf states, so they want to present themselves as a force multiplier rather than a problem.”

Michael Crowley contributed reporting.