More countries are now engaging with the Taliban-led interim Afghan government.
A top Qatari envoy said the intra-Afghan talks in Doha would have continued if former President Ashraf Ghani did not leave the country when the Taliban took over Kabul.
The comments by Qatar’s Special Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani were made during a panel discussion at the the Global Security Forum [GSF] in Doha on Tuesday.
“The world was caught by surprise when the former president of Afghanistan fled the country,” Al Qahtani said at the event, shortly after attending meetings between the Taliban and western diplomats in the Gulf state.
Ghani fled the country as the Taliban encircled Kabul on 15 August after rapidly capturing several provincial territories. Reports at the time claimed he had left on a flight to Tajikstan before then moving to the United Arab Emirates with “tonnes of cash”.
Ghani denied those reports in a public statement issued a month after the takeover, saying he “owes” Afghans an explanation.
“Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life, but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her six million citizens…it was never my intent to abandon the people or that vision [of building a democratic, prosperous and sovereign state],” read one part of the statement.
Speaking in Doha on Tuesday, Al Qahtani confirmed the talks in the Qatari capital had come to a halt.
“With respect to the intra-Afghan negotiations, the process has been stopped because the former president fled the country, otherwise that would have continued,” he said.
Qatar has hosted intra-Afghan talks since September last year, bringing members of the former Afghan government and the Taliban on the same table of negotiations. While the talks were seen as a major positive move in the Afghan peace process, they made no major progress.
In February last year, under the former Donald Trump administration, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement in Doha that set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces.
The US said it would go ahead with the withdrawal if the Taliban halted its support for terrorist organisations.
However, President Biden changed the deadline to 11 September this year – before it was later revised to 31 August – without conditions.
Al Qahtani said the Taliban has been complying with the February agreement and noted the group is committed to combating terrorism and fighting ISIS-K militants who have carried out a range of deadly attacks across the country.
In recent days, the Taliban has been engaging with the international community and expressed its willingness to build ties with foreign countries.
More recently, members of the new interim Afghan administration met with officials from the European Union and a number of other western diplomats in Qatar in efforts to push for international legitimacy and humanitarian assistance.
However, EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali assured the meeting “does not constitute recognition” of the interim government and said it was an “informal exchange at a technical level”.
Responding to a question over the recognition of the new Taliban-dominated government, Al Qahtani reiterated that Qatar does not think recognition is a priority as the focus should be on providing the country with humanitarian assistance.
“International law speaks about the recognition of states as opposed to the recognition of governments. We think this is not a priority, what’s more of a priority as we speak now is the humanitarian [assistance], education, free passage of passengers,” he explained.
The Qatari official also said the Taliban has been cooperative with regards to providing a safe passage for those wishing to depart the country.
“Maybe it’s a matter of time, but I see more countries now engaging with the Taliban, or the caretaker government, or the de-facto authority, or whatever you want to call them,” he said, describing this as a new reality.
Speaking on Qatar’s mediating role in Afghanistan, Al Qahtani said the Gulf state had to respond to the latest developments by standing behind its “partners, friends and allies”.
“Since we have the ability and the trust of all sides, why don’t we help?”
Qatar has managed to evacuate more than 50,000 Afghans and foreigners from Afghanistan since the fall of Kabul.
At least half of the evacuees were able to reach their final destinations through Doha.