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Monday, January 24, 2022

Qatar, Turkey and UAE vie to operate Kabul airport


Technical teams from Doha and Ankara were able to help resume civilian operations at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport following the collapse of the previous Afghan government.

Qatar, Turkey and the UAE are reportedly in discussions with Afghan officials to operate Kabul’s main airport, the Daily Sabah reported on Monday, citing comments made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

At a press conference, the senior Turkish diplomat said the Taliban-led interim Afghan administration had stated “it would receive proposals from different countries” over operating its airports.

“It is normal that different countries make offers during that process,” noted Cavusoglu.

Discussions over operating various Afghan airports are underway between Qatar, Turkey and the interim Afghan government.

Blinken in talks with Qatar FM as US authorises aid to Afghanistan

While Qatar and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding [MoU] between themselves over operating five airports in Afghanistan, they have yet to reach an agreement with the Taliban-led administration itself.

“Our friends in Doha continued to discuss what can be done if the joint company [of Qatar and Turkey] take on the operation of the airport,” said Cavusoglu.

Meanwhile, the Daily Sabah reported that airport operations were on the agenda of a recent meeting between UAE’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan [MBZ] and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara last month.

“They [UAE] said we may operate the airport trilaterally,” said Cavusoglu.

But he added that no serious discussion over such a scenario had thus far taken place.

The Turkish foreign minister also noted that while Turkey was leading the Hamid Karzai International Airport’s military wing under the NATO banner prior to the Taliban takeover, an Emirati company had been operating the civilian terminal for around 18 months before the government collapsed.

Qatari and Turkish technical teams were dispatched to Kabul to repair the capital’s airport upon the Taliban’s request and in coordination with the international community following the foreign troop withdrawal in late August.

The teams were able to get the airport up and running within a short period of time, enabling the resumption of civilian flights as well as dozens of evacuation trips—the vast majority of which were operated by Doha’s national carrier, Qatar Airways.

The first passenger flight to depart Kabul landed in Qatar on 9 September, carrying 113 Afghans and foreigners. Since then, thousands of Afghans and foreigners have been evacuated on numerous flights.

In November, Reuters reported that the UAE held talks with the Taliban-run Afghan administration with the aim of convincing Kabul’s new rulers of allowing Abu Dhabi to run the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Analysts attributed this to the UAE’s keenness to assert regional influence.

There have been no updates on the aforementioned discussions since then.

Over the last few months, regional heavyweight mediator Qatar has played a pivotal role as events unfolded in Afghanistan, carrying out the largest airlift of people in history. The Gulf state evacuated at least 70,000 Afghans and foreigners.

While Qatar has mediated between all Afghan parties as well as the Taliban and the US in recent years, diplomatic efforts have been ramped up since the collapse of the former Afghan government in recent months.

The Gulf state has since agreed to relocate embassies belonging to several Western powers from Kabul to Doha to allow them to carry out operations outside the country.

European countries and the US have held various meetings with the Taliban-led interim Afghan government in Doha as the Gulf state has continued to call on the global community to engage with the acting administration.

Meanwhile, Qatar has continued to facilitate evacuations and provide Afghanistan with humanitarian assistance.

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