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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Lessons from GCC crisis can be used to resolve regional issues: Qatar FM


Qatari officials are in New York for the 76th UN General Assembly.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said lessons picked up from the three-year-long GCC crisis have equipped Doha with knowledge on how to navigate regional issues and differences via negotiations.

“We learned many lessons from the Gulf crisis, and we are not the only ones who learned them. The main lesson that will not be forgotten is not to resort to actions before dialogue,” Sheikh Mohammed said in an interview with the US Council on Foreign Relations [CFR] on the sidelines of the 7th Session of the UNGA.

The foreign minister said no one party “won” in the crisis and and that “everyone is a loser”, stressing on importance of recent successes achieved by members of the GCC as part of the reconciliation process.

The three-dispute resulted in a waste of great opportunities, he added, calling for building a common security system to prevent aggression attempts from outside the Gulf region.

“We work as mediators for our interest and the interest of our security, wealth and prosperity. The region has witnessed one crisis after another during the last 70 years. If we remain passive and do nothing, I do not think that there are other players who will do anything,” said Sheikh Mohammed.

Qatar has been playing a key mediating role in various issues even beyond the GCC region, namely and most recently in Afghanistan.

Doha has hosted frequent meetings between Afghan warring factions, including the former government and the Taliban. However, the talks have witnessed little progress with the two sides struggling to reach an agreement over their differences.

It has also brought together the Taliban and the US, which resulted in the signing of an agreement between the two sides in February.

Under the agreement, Washington agreed to withdraw all foreign forces by 1 May on the condition that the Taliban stops cooperating with terrorist organisations. This was later changed to 11 September, though the troops eventually pulled out by 31 August.

With the Taliban now in power, the international community has been urging the formation of government that is inclusive of all Afghan parties. The current interim administration only comprises of members of the Taliban and its loyalists.

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Commenting on the new governance in Afghanistan, Sheikh Mohammed said he believes that inclusiveness and reconciliation serve both the world and Afghan society.

“We are ready to provide support and assistance to reach an agreement between the parties, and we ask the Taliban and the other parties to enter into a partnership. There is a great response from all parties to work for a national reconciliation to achieve stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

Responding to a question on the “new” Taliban and its links to jihadist activity, the foreign minister said he believes the group is working on changing, noting that the process requires great efforts that Islamic countries must support.

“If the Taliban wants to implement the principles of Islamic law, we have many moderate examples of these principles in Islamic countries, and we hope that the Taliban will not go to the more strict examples,” he said.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Chairman of Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah are among the prominent members of the former government who have remained in the country following the events of 15 August.

The Qatari diplomat said he has heard positive words from the two former officials regarding the Taliban’s new regime.

Furthermore, he said that there is a difference between the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the US withdrawal from the region, describing the latest events as the end of the conflict in the country.

“There is a large space for the United States to develop partnerships with the countries of the region, and we support its withdrawal from Afghanistan as a first step,” he said, reiterating that imposing regimes from abroad is unsustainable.

Qatar has played a pivotal humanitarian role since the Taliban’s takeover, facilitating one of history’s largest evacuation operations while moving the US’ and other western embassies from Kabul to Doha.

Around 120,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan, at least 60,000 of which transitted through Doha.

Some of the evacuees were transferred to temporary compounds in Doha while others were moved to the US’ Al Udeid Air Base. Qatar has also been holding talks with the Taliban to ensure that evacuations are conducted in a safe manner.

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Meanwhile, authorities in Doha also granted girls from various schools in Afghanistan free scholarships to continue their education in the Gulf state, including the all-girls robotics team.

Commenting on his latest trip to Afghanistan, Sheikh Mohammed said the aim of the visit was to provide a safe passage for travellers from Afghanistan while ensuring the Taliban respects those departing the country, as well as women’s rights.

“We gave the Taliban an example that Qatar is a Muslim country and respects women’s rights to work and education,” he added.

On Iran

The Iran nuclear deal has also been among the most high-level files in Qatar’s foreign policy, with the Gulf state continuously reiterating the importance of returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] following the US withdrawal in 2018.

Qatar had previously said it will “spare no efforts” in ensuring the 2015 nuclear agreement is restored. Members of the accord are currently engaging in efforts to resume indirect Vienna talks between Iran and the US.

“We want a quiet region. We hold consultations with Iran and keep our channels open with Tehran. We do not want to see a nuclear race in the region,” said the Qatari diplomat, commenting on mediation between Washington and Tehran.

On Palestine

With the ongoing occupation of Palestine being at the heart of Qatar’s foreign policy, the Gulf state has continued to urge the international community to work towards a just settlement in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar is working to help achieve peace and stability in Gaza and the West Bank, while continuing to provide support to the Palestinian territories. He also said that the peace process has remained stalled for years.

“When there was Arab consensus and hope for peace decades ago, Qatar was the first country to open up in its relations, along with several Arab countries, but this did not achieve the desired progress in the Palestinian cause,” he said.

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