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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Qatar, Russia call for detaching Afghanistan humanitarian aid from politics


Qatar has been operating daily aid flights to Afghanistan to alleviate the sufferings of Afghans living under a worsening humanitarian situation.

Top Qatari and Russian officials called on the international community to find a solution to the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, urging for world leaders to divorce humanitarian aid “from any political developments”, Doha’s foreign ministry [MOFA] said on Saturday.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Moscow, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov stressed the need to establish a humanitarian aid corridor in order to support the freedom of movement into the Asian state.

The two officials also emphasised the importance of the Taliban’s coordination in enabling those who wish to leave Afghanistan do so in a secure and safe manner.

“[The foreign ministers] stressed the importance of Afghanistan’s stability and security, and the need to take the concerns of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries into consideration, expressing his hope that the world would see the Taliban’s promises come true,” read a statement by MOFA.

Lavrov said Qatari and Russian teams are working to ensure Afghanistan achieves “calm and stability”, noting that the two foreign ministers “are committed to accelerating the pace of these initiatives” while prioritising the humanitarian situation.

“The two sides discussed fears of the continued flow of refugees and its repercussions on the neighbouring countries,” added the statement.

The Russian diplomat also praised Qatar’s role in the Afghan peace process, highlighting Doha’s efforts in ensuring the Taliban remains committed to reach a “government that represents all Afghan society”.

UN refugee chief commends Qatar for ‘dignified’ transit for Afghan evacuees

During the same press conference, Lavrov said NATO should assess the situation in Afghanistan more comprehensively and be more self-critical, suggesting the coalition is to blame for the latest developments.

“I have heard the statement of NATO Secretary General Mr. [Jens] Stoltenberg, who pinned the blame for the current situation on Afghanistan’s former government and armed forces, which were allegedly incapable of keeping the situation under control. At the very least, the old Russian proverb about laying something at someone’s door comes to mind,” he said.

Lavrov’s comments came in response to a Stoltenberg interview with the New York Times in which he said the fall of Kabul happened because of “a collapse” of Afghanistan’s “political and military leadership”.

Several Western powers have been exchanging blame for the current situation in Afghanistan, with US President Joe Biden receiving global criticism for his decision to completely withdraw American and NATO forces from Afghanistan without conditions or a comprehensive peace plan.

Among the critics are Republicans, Biden’s own Democrats, as well as foreign allies.

The lack of planning forced the US and its allies to rush to evacuate not only thousands of their own troops, but Afghan civilians and those who worked with foreign organisations.

In a previous statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the 20-year invasion has only resulted in tragedies.

“American troops were present on that territory [of Afghanistan] for 20 years, and over those 20 years they were trying – this can be said without offending anyone – to civilise the local people, but in fact, to impose their norms and standards of life in the broadest sense of this word, including the political organisation of society,” said Putin.

Qatar managed to safely evacuate over 50,000 Afghans and foreigners from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on 15 August. Most of the evacuees have now reached their final destinations through Doha, where they temporarily stayed at either the US’ Al Udeid Air Base or one of the residential compounds in the Gulf state.

In recent weeks, several nations have asked Qatar to host their embassies, including the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Japan and Italy.

More recently, the Wall Street Journal [WSJ] said a group of Afghan Air Force pilots who escaped to Uzbekistan after the militants took over Kabul are being transferred to Al Udeid.

People familiar with the matter told the WSJ, the pilots might move to the Gulf state over the weekend under a deal between the US and Uzbekistan, without providing details on where they will be settled.

Up to 46 airplanes carrying a total of 585 Afghan pilots, crew and their families fled to Uzbekistan after the Taliban seized power militarily, with the Uzbek government facing pressure from the militants to hand over the Afghans.

Speaking to the WSJ, Taliban spokesman in Doha Suhail Shaheen said the pilots should return to Afghanistan.

“These pilots should return to their country, the country needs them,” Shaheen said.

“We are just starting to rebuild our country. The world should help us, instead of hurling hurdles in the way of reconstruction of Afghanistan and economic prosperity of our people.”

While the Taliban has promised to protect Afghan government officials, NGO workers and journalists, recent acts of violence have raised concerns worldwide.

In the last week, disturbing images of Afghan journalists beaten by the Taliban have emerged online, both of whom were captured by the group for covering protests in Kabul.

The Taliban has also promised to enable foreigners and Afghans to freely leave the country if they have travel documents. Over the last few days, Kabul airport has been announced as fully operational following technical assistance from Qatar and Turkey.

This promises have failed to convince France, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accusing the militants of lying and dismissing any plans to form ties with the group.

“They said they would let some foreigners and Afghans leave freely and [talked] of an inclusive and representative government, but they are lying,” Le Drian told France 5 TV ahead of his visit to Qatar on Sunday.

“France refuses to recognise or have any type of relationship with this government. We want actions from the Taliban and they will need some economic breathing space and international relations. It’s up to them.”

Measles cases

Meanwhile, US Special Representatives for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Qatar has helped over 250 foreign nationals, including dozens of Americans and permanent residents, leave Kabul without hurdles.

“Our thanks go out to Qatar for its help facilitating these flights, and we welcome the Taliban’s cooperation in this important effort,” tweeted Khalilzad.

Despite the resumption of operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Washington on Friday halted US-bound flights of Afghan evacuees after discovering several cases of measles among arrivals.

According to the Associated Press [AP], the US Customs and Border Protection made the decision based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC].

It remains unclear whether the decision applies to all flights or only the two main routes transiting through Qatar and Germany.

The AP said the decision would “severely impact” operations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, citing documents it obtained regarding the halt.

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