Qatar's embassy in Kabul to represent US diplomatic interests in Afghanistan

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announces move as US grapples with how to engage with Taliban

Washington and Doha have signed an agreement for the Qatari embassy in Kabul to represent the diplomatic interests of the US in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Friday.

Mr Blinken said the agreement assigns Qatar the role of “protecting power” for US interests to help enable any formal communication between Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which Washington does not recognise.

The secretary of state announced the move alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Washington.

The US and other western countries are grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after the hard-line group took over Afghanistan in a lightning advance in August as US-led forces withdrew after two decades of war.

The US shut its sprawling Kabul embassy compound and ended its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan as it became clear the Taliban were taking over.

Many countries including the US and European states are reluctant to formally recognise the Taliban as critics say they are backtracking on pledges of political and ethnic inclusivity and not sidelining women and minorities.

But with winter approaching, many countries realise they need to engage more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Doha played a major role in recent years in the lead-up to the end of America's longest war. It is home to several senior Taliban leaders and hosted talks that led to the 2020 withdrawal deal.

Qatar also hosts a major US military base and about half of the 124,000 westerners and western-allied Afghans flown out of Afghanistan in the waning days of the US military involvement in the country transited through Doha.

Despite the Taliban's draconian 1996-2001 regime and years of war with the US, American officials have been cautiously optimistic in dealing with the Taliban, saying they are largely carrying out promises to let people leave the country.

But the US has ruled out any immediate recognition or reopening of its embassy in Kabul, saying it is waiting to ensure the Taliban make good on other promises including guaranteeing women's rights and prohibiting Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base of operations.

Mr Blinken also announced that as of last Wednesday, all US citizens who have requested assistance from the US government to depart Afghanistan, and have been cleared to do so, have been offered an opportunity to leave the country.

That includes more than 280 US citizens as well as more than 280 legal permanent residents, he said.

In a separate agreement, Qatar will continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 at-risk Afghans who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and their eligible family members, Mr Blinken said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: November 12th 2021, 3:52 PM