SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 8 December 2021, Wednesday |

UAE holds talks with Taliban to run Kabul airport – foreign diplomats

According to four sources familiar with the situation, the UAE has held talks with the Taliban about running Kabul airport, pitting itself against Gulf rival Qatar in a diplomatic battle for influence with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

According to foreign diplomats based in the Gulf region, UAE officials have held a series of discussions with the group in recent weeks to discuss operating the airport that serves as landlocked Afghanistan’s main air link to the rest of the world.

The talks show how countries are attempting to assert their influence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, despite the fact that the hardline Islamist group is largely an international pariah and its government is not formally recognized.

According to sources who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, the Emiratis are eager to counter Qatar’s diplomatic clout in the region.

The Qataris have been assisting Turkey in running the Hamid Karzai International Airport after playing a major role in evacuation efforts following the chaotic US withdrawal in August, and have stated their willingness to take over the operations.

The Taliban, however, has not yet formalised an agreement with Qatar, according to the four diplomats.

According to a senior Emirati foreign ministry official, the UAE “remains committed to continuing to assist in operating” Kabul airport during the US-backed Afghan republic.

Abu Dhabi has also assisted with recent evacuation efforts.

Requests for comment from the Taliban and Qatari authorities were not returned.

According to two of the diplomats, the Taliban has also requested financial assistance from the UAE, though it is unclear whether this is related to the airport discussions.

Salem Al Zaabi, director of international security cooperation at the Emirati Foreign Ministry, did not respond to a question about whether the UAE was considering providing financial assistance to the Taliban.

AIRPORT INTELLIGENCE

One key issue that has yet to be resolved between the Taliban and potential airport operators, according to the four diplomats, is who will provide security at the site. Following their return to power after two decades of conflict, the Taliban have stated that they do not want foreign forces in the country.