Browsing 'taliban' News

Former Taliban office in Doha.

Salman Siddiqui/Twitter

Former Taliban office in Doha.

Representatives of the Taliban’s “political office” in Qatar will attend a conference here this weekend about resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.

In a statement on Friday, the group said it was invited to participate by the Pugwash Council, a Nobel peace-prize winning group that works internationally to resolve various conflicts.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Taliban said that it would use the conference to “relay the legal demands of our nation and our just policy to the world directly.”

Qatar is not involved in any formal talks to resolve the conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but it does appear to have an open channel with the group.

Qatar's Emir

Georgetown University

Qatar’s Emir

Earlier this month, Canada thanked the Emir for negotiating the release of a Toronto man kidnapped and held in Afghanistan for more than five years.

Members of the Taliban have lived in Qatar for several years and briefly opened a political office in Dafna in 2013, but closed it less than a week later.

Informal talks

The Pugwash Council also held a session in Qatar on the same subject last May.

However, at that meeting both Taliban officials and important government figures attended, though all in an informal capacity.

During this weekend’s session, no members of the Afghan government are expected to be present, AP reports.

The WSJ added that President Ashraf Ghani’s administration sees such events as a distraction from formal negotiations and that the conference would give the Taliban “undue legitimacy.”

Thoughts?

Canadian flag - vtgard-flickr

vtgard/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Canada’s prime minister has personally thanked Qatar’s Emir for the country’s assistance in negotiating the release of a Toronto man kidnapped in Afghanistan more than five years ago, QNA reports.

Earlier this week, Canada’s foreign affairs minister said in a statement that efforts to secure the release of Colin Rutherford – who was abducted by the Taliban in 2010 – “have been successful” and extended his appreciation for Qatar’s efforts.

It’s not clear what specific role Qatar played in freeing Rutherford.

The man is an auditor who said in a 2011 video released by the Taliban that he traveled to Afghanistan as a “tourist” because of his interest in “history and historical sites, old buildings, shrines.”

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani addresses the UN General Assembly .

QNA

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani addresses the UN General Assembly .

Qatar’s ambassador to Canada, Fahad Mohamed Kafoud, told the National Post that instructions to work on freeing Rutherford came “from His Highness the Emir to facilitate and to do our best to help our friend in Canada.”

“So we did some contacting, we did some kind of efforts through the ministry of foreign affairs of Qatar … and this has been a successful outcome for Mr. Rutherford who was released today,” he told the newspaper.

Kafoud added that no ransom had been paid, in accordance with a policy previously laid out by Qatar’s foreign minister.

The Canadian embassy in Doha declined to comment on the case.

Hostage negotiator

Qatar has a reputation among its allies as a hostage negotiator and has previously helped free seven Greek Orthodox nuns from Syria.

It also helped facilitate the release of US journalist Peter Theo Curtis – who had been held captive by the militant group al-Nusra Front in Syria – as well as US Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released from captivity in Afghanistan in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.

 An image from a video shot in 2014 as five former Taliban prisoners were released in Qatar.

Video still

An image from a video shot in 2014 as five former Taliban prisoners were released in Qatar.

Andrew Hammond, a Middle East analyst with the European Council of Foreign Affairs, previously told Doha News that Qatar has built up a complicated network of contacts with different groups in the region.

This allows the Gulf state to call in favors from various organizations on behalf of other states, thereby increasing Qatar’s value to its allies, analysts have said.

Taliban office in Doha.

Salman Siddiqui/Twitter

Taliban office in Doha.

Members of the Taliban have lived in Qatar for several years and briefly opened a political office in Dafna in 2013, but closed it less than a week later.

Thoughts?

Taliban members in Qatar

Video still

Taliban members in Qatar

Five senior Taliban members will continue to call Qatar home for the foreseeable future after officials here agreed to extend a travel ban on the former Guantanamo Bay inmates.

The men were released from the US-run prison last year in exchange for US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured in Afghanistan. Under the initial deal, which expired this week, the Taliban members were transported to Qatar and prevented from leaving the country for a year.

The prisoner swap was controversial in the US, with some politicians suggesting that the men could return to the battlefield once the travel ban expires.

On Monday, US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the Taliban members would not be departing Qatar anytime soon, but gave no indication about how long they would remain here:

“The Government of Qatar has agreed to maintain the current restrictive conditions on these individuals as we continue the discussions to determine the path forward here when it comes to these five individuals. All five remain in Qatar, where they remain subject to extensive monitoring as well as travel restrictions,” she said.

“We continue to work to make sure that these individuals do not pose a threat to the US, and these are ongoing discussions about what will happen next.”

Living in Qatar

Locally, the Taliban members appear to have kept a relatively low profile. Several foreign journalists have visited Qatar in an attempt to find the men, but none appeared to have been able to locate them.

But internationally, some of the members have been accused of “reaching out” to individuals fighting US forces in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, US Senator Lindsey Graham – who yesterday announced that he’s running for the Republican presidential nomination – asserted: “The Taliban five are communicating with people inside Afghanistan.”

Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah.

Ministerie van Buitenlands

Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah.

At the time, Qatar’s foreign minister – Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah – called the reports “totally false.”

“They are living according to the agreement we signed with the United States,” he said, according to Reuters.

American and Qatari security agencies “will monitor and pick up anything that will happen…I can assure you, no one has made an attempt to go back” to Afghanistan, he added.

Meanwhile, the New York Times cited US officials as saying that the former prisoners were previously members of the Taliban government and have aged while in custody, making it unlikely that they would be headed to the battlefield once they’re allowed to leave Qatar.

Hamad International Airport

HIAQatar / Twitter

Hamad International Airport

Where exactly the men would go once they are permitted to leave the country remains uncertain.

In a separate article, the New York Times noted that the Taliban members are under a UN travel ban, which means they are only legally allowed to travel to their native Afghanistan, where they would likely be arrested under Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s government.

Ismail Qasimyar, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council said the men should either remain in Qatar indefinitely or be handed over to the Afghan government, according to Voice of America.

Taliban-Qatar relations

For the past several years, Qatar has attempted to serve as an intermediary between the Taliban and the US, as well as its Afghan government allies.

Taliban office in Doha.

Salman Siddiqui/Twitter

Taliban office in Doha.

In 2013, a local Taliban office in Dafna opened as part of those efforts. However, it closed less than a week later after drawing the fire of Afghanistan’s then-president, Hamad Karzai.

Karzai apparently took offense to the raising of a flag and installation of a placard that named the building the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the former name of the country when it was under Taliban rule.

More recently, Qatar hosted a “national dialogue” between Afghan and Taliban officials.

Qatar is keen to “establish security and stability in Afghanistan” through “open discussions,” said Yousif al Sada, the director of the Asian department at Qatar’s foreign ministry, according to QNA.

However, Reuters quoted an official Taliban spokesperson downplaying expectations by saying the organization’s participation in the conference “does not mean at all peace talks or negotiations.”

Thoughts?