From Afghanistan to the World Cup, Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Steps Up – The New York Times

DOHA, Qatar — As chaos took over america’ last-minute efforts to evacuate greater than 120,000 of its residents and companions from Afghanistan final month, a tiny, rich nation that many People would battle to seek out on a map abruptly discovered itself uniquely positioned to assist out.

Qatar, a sandy, sun-baked peninsula within the Persian Gulf, obtained about 60,000 People and Afghans, greater than every other nation. And with its ties to each america — it hosts the biggest American navy base within the Center East — and the Taliban, it’s nicely positioned to play a powerful position as an middleman between the brand new Taliban-run Afghanistan and the West.

The gas-rich nation, which has lengthy used its large wealth to punch above its weight, is having a second on this planet highlight.

Even because it delivers tons of meals and medical help to Afghanistan and hosts the American secretaries of protection and state, who flew to Qatar this week, it has made attention-grabbing information on this planet of soccer, the place it just lately signed one of many sport’s biggest gamers, Lionel Messi, to the Paris St.-Germain workforce it owns. The nation can also be set to host the soccer World Cup subsequent 12 months.

“Qatar has at all times wished to be a world participant, whether or not that’s internet hosting large sports activities occasions or signing main gamers, or presenting itself as a regional linchpin for world politics and diplomacy,” stated Michael Stephens, a senior fellow on the International Coverage Analysis Institute and an skilled on Gulf politics. “They haven’t at all times received this steadiness proper, however for the time being they appear to have taken the proper initiatives on the proper time.”

Qatar’s assist in the Afghan airlift received plaudits from President Biden, and each Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Protection Lloyd J. Austin III arrived within the Qatari capital, Doha, on Monday, the place they dined with the nation’s 41-year-old monarch, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

“Many international locations have stepped as much as assist the evacuation and relocation efforts in Afghanistan, however no nation has executed greater than Qatar,” Mr. Blinken stated at a information convention in Doha on Tuesday.

“The partnership between Qatar and america has by no means been stronger,” he added.

Standing beside him, Qatar’s overseas minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, referred to as america “our most necessary ally.”

The sunny second, earlier than a financial institution of American and Qatari flags, marked a pointy turnaround in bilateral relations from the earlier administration, which had initially supported a blockade towards Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. These international locations, backed by President Trump, accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and interfering within the inner affairs of different Arab states, accusations that Qatar denied.

The blockade ended early this 12 months, earlier than Mr. Biden’s inauguration.

Now it’s Qatar’s good relations with outliers just like the Taliban and Iran — relations that contributed to the accusations of supporting terrorism — which have made it invaluable as a go-between, permitting Qatar to advertise what it calls “preventive diplomacy.”

“Typically, a small dimension permits you really to play precisely that position, as a result of you aren’t intimidating anybody,” Qatar’s assistant overseas minister, Lolwah Al-Khater, stated in an interview. “It’s a small nation that nobody is fearful about. We’re not going to wage a battle towards anybody.”

Qatar, which is smaller than Connecticut and has about 300,000 residents, shares an enormous pure gasoline subject with Iran, whose proceeds have given its individuals a per-capita revenue of greater than $90,000 per 12 months, one of many world’s highest, in accordance with the C.I.A. World Factbook.

Qatar has used that cash to bankroll and promote its view of the area — one that features political Islamists — by Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite tv for pc community it owns, and to subject the profitable bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Alongside the best way, it has maintained ties with a spread of Islamist teams, together with the Palestinian militants Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

These ties have proved helpful to the West, which has leaned on them to barter hostage releases in international locations corresponding to Syria. And Qatar hosted peace talks with the Taliban, which opened an workplace in Doha in 2013, with tacit permission from america.

The Trump administration’s settlement with the Taliban setting a timetable for the American withdrawal was signed in Doha final 12 months. And because the American embassy in Kabul was evacuated final month, america has moved its Afghan diplomatic operations to Doha.

“There isn’t any doubt that they’ve performed their playing cards nicely,” Mr. Stephens stated. “They really feel that this has positioned them as being a helpful ally to the West and in addition as an interlocutor on wider regional points, and that’s what they at all times wished.”

In current days, Qatar has delivered 68 tons of meals and medical help to the Afghan capital, Kabul, Qatari officers stated. Qatari officers and technicians have additionally flown to Kabul to satisfy with the Taliban and work with their counterparts from Turkey on how one can reopen the town’s worldwide airport.

And Qatar is utilizing its leverage to press the Taliban to make good on its vows of moderation, Ms. Al-Khater stated.

“We are attempting to encourage the Taliban to have a extra inclusive authorities that represents everybody,” she stated. “Ladies illustration, we’re not positive about that half, if it’s going to achieve success, however not less than we’re pushing.”

The Taliban have made public assurances that they’d grant amnesty to officers and troopers of the previous authorities, and would permit ladies to work and examine, actions largely banned beneath its earlier authorities from 1996 to 2001, which brutally enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic legislation.

How nicely they dwell as much as these guarantees stays to be seen. The group has but to call an entire authorities and has violently suppressed protests by ladies in Kabul. In different components of the nation, its fighters have been accused of going house-to-house to trace down outdated foes.

At house, Qatar remains to be within the throes of the evacuation.

Whereas about two thirds of the evacuees have moved on to different international locations, about 20,000 are nonetheless in Qatar, which has been offering them with meals and medical care.

A few of them, together with Afghans who labored for media organizations corresponding to The New York Instances, have been housed in brand-new villas constructed for the World Cup, however most live in Al Udeid, the sprawling United States navy base, the place crowding, warmth and restricted sanitation amenities have been main issues.

Ms. Al-Khater stated these issues are being addressed, and that the Qatari authorities and related charities have constructed extra shelters, bogs and subject clinics and are offering greater than 55,000 meals per day.

Mr. Stephens, the Gulf politics skilled, stated it was unclear how lengthy Qatar would reap the advantages of its assist in Afghanistan however that, like all of the Gulf states, it was looking for methods to lift its standing in Washington.

“All of them need to be in Biden’s good guide,” he stated. “They know that this administration shouldn’t be fully eager on the Gulf states, so that they need to current themselves as a drive multiplier reasonably than an issue.”

Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *