(Doha) The head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken arrived in Qatar on Monday evening, a country that has become the main interlocutor of the Taliban, the new masters of Kabul and the logistical hub for the evacuation of all those who want to flee Afghanistan.
Posted on Sep 6, 2021 at 12:43 pm
Shaun TANDON Agence France-Presse
The US Secretary of State’s plane landed in Doha shortly after 6 p.m. local time. He was to have dinner immediately with Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. This marks the first visit by high-ranking American officials to the region since the Taliban came to power on August 15 and the last Americans in the country left in appalling conditions.
MM. Blinken and Austin will meet with Qatari officials on Tuesday on the Afghan issue, which has become a major geopolitical issue and a possible humanitarian crisis that requires mobilization from the international community.
“We are grateful for Qatar’s close cooperation on Afghanistan and its indispensable assistance in assisting the rendition of US citizens, embassy staff of Kabul, threatened Afghans.” [par les talibans] and other people evacuated from Afghanistan via Qatar, “the State Department said before Mr. Blinken’s arrival.
The latter is due to go to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on Wednesday, which is temporarily hosting thousands of Afghans on their way to the United States. Together with his German counterpart Heiko Maas, he will lead a virtual ministerial meeting from around twenty countries, a kind of emerging “contact group” on the Afghanistan crisis.
For his part, Mr. Austin is on a golf trip that will also take him to Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The Qataris have become important actors on the Afghanistan issue, in a role as a neutral and influential mediator. You began speaking to the Taliban in 2013 at the request of then US President Barack Obama. They then welcomed the negotiations concluded in 2020 between Donald Trump’s USA and the Taliban, then between the latter and the Afghan opposition of the now ousted President Ashraf Ghani.
Eventually they welcomed more than 55,000 Afghan refugees, some of whom were staying at the American base in the emirate.
Four Americans left Afghanistan on Monday as part of the US-arranged exits for the first time by land since leaving the country in late August, a senior American official said. The Taliban had been informed and had “not prevented” them from leaving Afghanistan, he added, without specifying which border country these Americans had entered.
“Chat with the Taliban”
A sign of the new diplomatic significance of the rich emirate, before Mr Blinken took over from the heads of German, Dutch, British and Italian diplomacy and the Saudi interior minister in a week.
The US Army erected a gigantic airlift in Kabul in mid-August, which evacuated around 123,000 people – 75 to 80 percent of them “threatened Afghans,” according to the Foreign Minister. In total, more than 55,000 of these evacuees passed through Doha.
One of the big questions of the trip will be talks with the Taliban, which the international community has not yet officially recognized. Blinken is not planning a meeting with representatives of the new Islamist masters in Kabul, even if such a dialogue cannot be ruled out in the future. A branch of the Taliban has long been established in Doha.
The Americans “will continue to argue with the Taliban to ensure that our message is clear to them,” said Dean Thompson, a State Department official, on Saturday.
These contacts go through the American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s representative in the talks with the Taliban that led to the agreement in February 2020 on the withdrawal of American and foreign troops from this country.
“If it is necessary for the Foreign Minister to speak to a Taliban leader, […], it will, but we are not there at this point, ”another senior American official stated.