Qatar to act as US diplomatic representative in Afghanistan

Arrangement to come into effect on December 31

By Reuters

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Published: Fri 12 Nov 2021, 5:37 PM

Last updated: Fri 12 Nov 2021, 8:17 PM

The United States and Qatar have agreed that Qatar will represent the diplomatic interests of the United States in Afghanistan, a senior US official told Reuters, an important signal of potential direct engagement between Washington and Kabul in the future after two decades of war.

Qatar will sign an arrangement with the United States on Friday to assume the role of “protecting power” for US interests to help facilitate any formal communication between Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which the United States does not recognize.

The move comes at a time when the United States and other Western countries are grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after the hardline group took over Afghanistan in a lightning advance in August as US-led forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, signed the agreement making Qatar the U.S. "protecting power" in Afghanistan at a State Department ceremony after holding talks.

"Qatar will establish a U.S. interest section within its embassy in Afghanistan to provide certain consular services and monitor the condition and security of U.S. diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan," Blinken said.

Many countries, including the United States and European states, are reluctant to formally recognise the Taliban as critics say they are backtracking on pledges of political and ethnic inclusivity and not to sideline women and minorities.

But with winter approaching, many countries realize they need to engage more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe.

According to the arrangement, which will come into effect on December 31, Qatar will dedicate certain staff from its embassy in Afghanistan to a US Interests Section and will coordinate closely with US State Department and with the US mission in Doha.

A senior State Department official said the United States would also continue its engagement with the Taliban's political office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Consular assistance may include accepting passport applications, offering notarial services for documentation, providing information, and helping in emergencies, the US official said on condition of anonymity.

"The protecting power arrangement envisions that Qatar would facilitate any formal communication between the United States and Afghanistan," the senior US official said.

Special immigrant visas

In a second agreement with Washington, Qatar will continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 at-risk Afghans who have applied for (SIV) and their eligible family members, the US official said.

"SIV applicants will be housed at Camp As Sayliyah and Al Udeid Air Base," the official said.

At a press conference after signing the accords, Blinken praised Qatar for aiding ongoing evacuations of American citizens, green cards holders and SIV applicants.

Qatar, he said, allowed to transit through Doha roughly half of the 124,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan since August in the US evacuation operation.

Since then, Qatar has funded at least 15 evacuation flights by Qatar Airways of hundreds of US citizens and others and will continue providing charter flights for SIV holders and other Afghans, he said.

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