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Saturday, January 29, 2022

UK will not recognise Taliban any time soon, Raab says at Doha presser


The US is cooperating with Qatar and Turkey to resume operations at Kabul’s airport.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and his British counterpart Dominic Raab said they are committed to ensuring Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorism, while stressing the need to address the humanitarian situation in the country.

The comments came during a joint press conference in Doha on Thursday between the two foreign ministers, shortly after holding a meeting in which they discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan.

Among the key points were combatting terrorism, preventing a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, preserving regional stability and holding the Taliban to account to establish an inclusive government.

Despite being in talks with the Taliban, Raab ruled out the recognition of the group, saying that the UK needs “to adjust to the new reality”.

“We are pragmatic and realistic, we don’t recognise governments, we will not be recognising the Taliban,” said the British foreign minister, adding that the militants will be judged based on their actions rather than their words.

Taliban says formation of new Afghan government in ‘final stages’

The British foreign minister said several factors may encourage the UK to have ties with the Taliban, including: providing a safe passage, having a permissive environment for humanitarian workers and an inclusive government.

Britain has managed to safely evacuate more than 15,000 people in the past two weeks since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. However, several Afghans who work with the UK and British nationals remain in the country while awaiting evacuation.

When asked by the press whether the UK feels “guilt” over leaving its personnel behind, Raab said, “I do think we feel a responsibility to make sure the remaining British nationals and Afghan workers can come to the UK.”

The resumption of operations at Kabul airport has been a key area of focus in all discussions related to the situation in Afghanistan, since the the Taliban shut it down shortly after the US withdrew all its troops hours ahead of the 31 August deadline.

Commenting on the re-opening of the airport, Qatar’s foreign minister said he is “optimistic” that it will begin operating “as soon as possible”.

“We are working very hard and also engaging with the Taliban to identify what are the gaps and the risks in having the airport back up and running…and hopefully in the next few days we’ll hear some good news,” said Sheikh Mohammed.

The Taliban had previously requested Qatar and Turkey for technical assistance to operate Hamid Karzai International airport.

On Wednesday, sources confirmed to Doha News that a Qatari technical team arrived in Kabul’s airport after a video circulated on social media showing the moment a Qatar Airways-branded plane landed at the facility.

It was also the first flight to land in the airport following the completion of the foreign troop withdrawal on Tuesday.

Worsening humanitarian situation

The worsening humanitarian situation has also been high on the agenda at negotiations between world powers, with many raising grave concerns over an upcoming food crisis.

On Thursday, the UN said its stockpiles of food in Afghanistan could run out this month, warning of a hunger crisis that will exacerbate the many challenges facing the country.

“We all want to avoid a humanitarian crisis, that will require the Taliban to ensure a permissive environment for aid workers,” said Raab.

UN humanitarian chief in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said about one third of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million does not know whether they will have a meal every day.

“By the end of September, the stocks which the World Food Programme has in the country will be out,” Alakbarov told reporters at a virtual news conference.

“We will not be able to provide those essential food items because we’ll be out of stocks,” he added.

This echoes previous concerns raised by the WFP, which said at least $200 million is needed in order to feed people in Afghanistan, especially with winter approaching and amid an ongoing drought.

Sidelining former members

Meanwhile, Qatar and its international allies have been holding talks to ensure the new government is inclusive of all Afghan parties and minorities.

“We want to form an inclusive government in Afghanistan and we will judge the Taliban by their actions,” said Raab.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Wednesday, officials from the former Afghan administration are not going to be part of the new government, a Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

The broadcaster’s correspondent in Afghanistan said a Taliban source confirmed that the group is in the process of forming a new government that will be announced within a few days.

The group’s spokesman also told Al Jazeera that the new government will be receiving international and local support.

The comments raise questions regarding the formation of an “inclusive” government, given that previous government members including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah are taking part in talks with the group in Kabul.

Meanwhile the Financial Times [FT] reported that Karzai is unlikely to play a significant role in the new Taliban government, two senior Pakistani officials told the British newspaper.

However, the officials said the group sees Abdullah as the “least controversial” option.

“The Taliban are ready to recruit them,” said one of the officials, adding that it would be “difficult” to include Karzai.

“They will have their representatives but not old horses. There may be some space for Abdullah,” said the officials.

Both Karzai and Abdullah have been playing a prominent role for the past two weeks, negotiating with the militants in efforts to form a new, inclusive government.

One Pakistani official also told the FT that the Taliban “failed last time because no one accepted them” and they would now need international support.

Echoing earlier statements by Sheikh Mohammed, Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lolwah Al-Khater told the CNN that the international community should not isolate the Taliban.

“The Taliban needs the international community, and isolating it will not help,” said Al Khater, while calling for “the need to take advantage of the pragmatism” the group has shown.

Meanwhile in Qatar, Turkish ambassador Mehmet Mustafa Goksu met with the Taliban’s senior member Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. During the meeting, Goksu said his country will continue to provide assistance to Afghans and Stanikzai expressed his hope in establishing good relations with Turkey.

To further engage with the Taliban, Japan has set up a temporary office in Doha on Wednesday headed by Takashi Okada, the Japanese ambassador to Afghanistan.

Japan previously asked Qatar to host its Afghanistan embassy and run its operations from Doha instead of Kabul.

Several other countries have made requests, including the UK and the US, both of which have already moved diplomatic missions to the Gulf state.

Operations at Kabul’s airport

World leaders have been holding negotiations with the Taliban to provide a safe passage for Afghans wishing to flee the country as well as foreigners who remained in the country.

Qatari technical team onboard first flight to land in Kabul airport

The UK, which fought against the Taliban throughout the past 20-year invasion, has launched talks with the Taliban.

Furthermore, the US is cooperating with Qatar and Turkey in order to resume flights at Kabul airport to allow free movement of Afghans and foreigners, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reports on Tuesday.

“This is a priority the Secretary of State [Antony Blinken] will be leading. They’ll continue to provide updates,” she said.

“We’re hoping to make progress in the coming days,” noting that the US will work with NGO’s, including the WFP to distribute aid brought to Afghanistan through the Kabul airport.

This has also been a top priority for Qatar.
“Freedom of movement and mobility is one of the most important indicators of the return to normalcy in Afghanistan,” said Qatar’s foreign minister.

Criticism over Biden’s decisions

US President Joe Biden has been receiving global criticism for his decision to withdraw American and NATO forces from Afghanistan without a strategised peace plan.

Among the critics are Republicans, his 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 troops, but many Afghan civilians and those who worked with foreign organisations.

More recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the 20-years of invasion only resulted in tragedies and

“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.

According to to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, less than 40 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the withdrawal, and three quarters wanted US forces to remain in the country until all of its civilians got out.

Since his announcement in April to fully pull out foreign forces from the country, the Taliban has made rapid territorial gains in Afghanistan that culminated with the capture of the capital city Kabul on 15 August.

Qatar was quick to facilitate the rapid evacuations in no time and helped move over 40,000 people out of the country in one of the largest airlifts of people in history.

US Secretary of State held a phone call with Qatar’s foreign minister on Wednesday and thanked him for facilitating the evacuations.

Spoke with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs [Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani] and thanked him for Qatar’s tremendous effort to assist with the safe transit of US citizens and evacuees from Afghanistan. We’re grateful for our strong partnership with Qatar,” said Blinken in a tweet.

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