As the west pulled out this week from Afghanistan, Qatar and Turkey have been emerging as key mediators and facilitators. For these two nations from the Arab and Muslim world, contact with the Taliban have developed in different ways. As millions in Afghanistan face an uncertain future, Qatar and Turkey are throwing lifeline to Taliban’s new regime in strategic ways.
Analysts see Qatar’s mediating role becoming more imperative as the Taliban government in Kabul struggle to assert itself geopolitically and gain legitimacy in the world community. Turkey, on the other hand steps forward to become a “guarantor”, “mediator”, facilitator” and “lender” to help Afghanistan to come out of its social and economic plight.
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Qatar, a trusted mediator in the conflict
“No-one has been able to do any major evacuation process out of Afghanistan without having a Qatari involved in some way or another,” explains Dina Esfandiary, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, a think tank which studies global conflict.
“Afghanistan and the Taliban will be a significant victory for [Qatar], not just because it will show that they’re able to mediate with the Taliban, but it makes them a serious player for the Western countries that are involved,” she told the BBC.
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Qatar facilitating Doha talks for Us-Taliban engagement
As President Barack Obama’s administration sought to end the war, Qatar hosted Taliban leaders to discuss peace efforts from 2011.
It has been a controversial and patchy process. Although the sight of Taliban flag fluttering loud in the Doha suburbs offended many, it was a strategic step for Qatar to attain latent power among Middle Eastern countries. For the Qataris this move helped it to develop a three-decades-long ambition to formulate an autonomous foreign policy – which it sees as crucial for a nation that sits between the regional poles of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Doha talks culminated in last year’s deal under President Donald Trump for an American pull-out of Afghanistan. After taking office, Joe Biden announced that he was extending the deadline for a full withdrawal until 11 September.
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Turkey’s historical and ethnic ties with the Taliban
According to analysts, Turkey having strong ethnic and historical ties in Afghanistan has developed close intelligence ties with some Taliban-linked militia. Turkey is also an ally of neighbouring Pakistan, from whose religious seminaries the Taliban first emerged.
Last week, Turkish officials held talks with the Taliban lasting over three hours, as chaos gripped Kabul airport. They discussed the future operation of the airport itself, which Turkish troops have guarded for six years.
The Taliban had already insisted Turkey’s military leave along with all other foreign forces to end Afghanistan’s “occupation”. But last week’s meeting appeared to be part of a broader agenda, analysts say.
Read more: Erdogan: Turkey to retain presence at Kabul airport with Qatar
Turkey’s relationship with Taliban on a “cautious path”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he viewed messages from Taliban leaders with “cautious optimism”. He added that he would “not get permission from anyone” about who to talk to, when asked about criticism over contact with the group.
“This is diplomacy,” he said during a press conference.
He added: “Turkey is ready to lend all kinds of support for Afghanistan’s unity but will follow a very cautious path.”
Read more: President Erdogan: Taliban’s actions will determine Afghanistan’s future
Ties with Taliban 2.0; an historic opportunity for Turkey
Prof Ahmet Kasim Han, an expert on Afghan relations at Istanbul’s Altinbas University, believes dealing with the Taliban provides President Erdogan with an opportunity.
“To make their grip on power sustainable, the Taliban need international aid and investment to go on. The Taliban are not even able to pay for the salaries of their government employees today,” he told the BBC.
He says Turkey may try to position itself as “guarantor, mediator, facilitator” – as a more trusted intermediary than Russia or China – who have kept their embassies open in Kabul.
“Turkey can serve that role,” he says.
Qatar and Turkey role in the new Afghan regime
For now, with a deeply uncertain situation for the people of Afghanistan, Qatar and Turkey are among those talking to the Taliban for many in the outside world; while China and Russia also compete for future access in Kabul.
Prof Han says this amounts to a least worst option, what he calls the most “collaborative approach”.
“Turkey, being a member of the West, is more susceptible to pressure from the West over [human rights] issues,” he says.
The ripples from the Taliban’s take-over have only just begun. The lives of millions of Afghans are on an uncertain trajectory and a lot depends on how Qatar and Turkey play their role under the win-win context.