Abu Dhabi previously lobbied Washington to establish the Taliban’s office in the Emirates, before then accusing Qatar of ‘sponsoring terrorism’ for Doha’s hosting of the movement’s political office.
The UAE has held talks with the Taliban-run Afghan administration in recent weeks with the aim of convincing Kabul’s new rulers of allowing Abu Dhabi to run the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing four sources with knowledge.
Two diplomats told the news agency that the Taliban also sought financial assistance from The Emirates, but it remains unclear whether the request was part of the latest discussions.
The UAE’s director of international security cooperation Salem Al Zaabi did not respond to the news agency’s request for comment on the monetary assistance, refusing to say whether or not Abu Dhabi is funding the Taliban.
Following the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan on 31 August, Qatari and Turkish technical teams were sent to repair the damages at the Hamid Karzai International Airport upon the Taliban’s request and in coordination with the international community.
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. While Qatar previously expressed its willingness to help run the airport, a long-term agreement has yet to be formalised between the two sides.
The Reuters report noted that the UAE’s move comes as part of its keenness to assert regional influence. A senior Emirati foreign ministry official said that the UAE “remains committed to continuing to assist in operating [the airport]” it to ensure humanitarian access and safe passage.
Last week Doha further cemented its position as a key player when it comes to Afghanistan by signing an agreement with Washington under which Qatar will be representing the US diplomatically in Afghanistan.
Taliban officials and Qatari authorities did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
Following the Taliban’s take over of Kabul on 15 August, Qatar was commended by several world leaders for carrying out the largest airlift of people in history, evacuating over 70,000 Afghans and foreigners.
Speaking to Reuters, the diplomats said that Qatari special forces continued to provide security within the Kabul airport’s perimeter while the Taliban’s special forces oversee the areas beyond.
Prior to the recent events in Afghanistan, Qatar played a critical mediating role between the Taliban and the US as well as the militants and the former Afghan government.
Moreover, Doha has been hosting the Taliban’s political office since 2013 and facilitated talks between the group and the US in 2020, gathering the two rivals on a single negotiations table.
The talks resulted in the signing of the February agreement under which the Taliban and Washington set the deadline for the withdrawal of all occupying forces.
But when Washington and the Taliban signed the “historic” February accords in 2020 in Doha, the news was met with immediate criticism by UAE officials.
Dubai-based professor of politics and former UAE government advisor, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla at the time said the agreement should have been sponsored by another Gulf state and not Qatar.
In leaked emails from the UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba in 2017 revealed how his country was lobbying Washington to establish the Taliban’s political office in the Emirates itself.
Currently, the UAE hosts former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country when the Taliban encircled Kabul, reportedly arriving in the UAE with an aircraft filled with cash believed to be stolen public money.