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The Taliban and Qatar 4, January 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia, Qatar.
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After months of negotiations it has been announced that the Taliban will open a representative office in Qatar. Initially, Afghan President Karzai rejected Qatar as the location of the office and even removed the Afghan Ambassador from Qatar, accusing the Doha Government of not consulting the Afghan Government on the matter. Yet at the end of December 2011, Karzai relented, no doubt having extracted some price for his acquiescence.

No details are known about the office yet, but it is unlikely to take on the role of a Consulate or retain any significant official diplomatic capacity for many years and even then not without the explicit approval of the Government of Afghanistan, which would simply not be given under current circumstances.


The benefits

Numerous previous efforts have been launched but failed. Two of the most recent forays for peace resulted in Western allies being swindled of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Taliban impostor in November 2010 and a similar scam led to the assassination of the lead Afghan Peace negotiator in September 2011. This event in particular was a further catalyst for the opening of this office.

Now that a Taliban base is established, if it can be staffed effectively it should enhance the chances for finding some kind of an accommodation in Afghanistan. Without the dangerous and difficult spy-games of locating Taliban spokespeople; without the pressures of the in-country dynamics of the Taliban being a furtive, fugitive organisation and with a physical and metaphorical distance from the Afghan Taliban and their associated baggage – not to mention profound ISI-Pakistani influence –  hopes are that all will find negotiating easier.

Aside from causing problems for American Diplomatic Service Protection Officers, the representative office in Doha is likely to be a boon for America with negotiating made significantly easier. Indeed, the Taliban themselves will likely seek out the Americans for discussions; they want five of their comrades incarcerated in Guantanamo to be released, perhaps for the quid pro quo of the release of a captured US serviceman.

Why Qatar?

Qatar is something of a natural choice as a location for the office. The small Gulf State now has a long history of offering up its services in the name of peace. For many years it has supported peace negotiations in Darfur through funding an inexhaustible number of Sudan-Qatar flights along with unlimited hotel accommodation and facilities in Doha as well as getting deeply involved in the negotiations themselves. Also, in 2007 Qatar sought to find an accommodation between the Houthis and the Yemeni government and, with echoes of today’s decision, offered the Houthi leadership accommodation in Qatar in return for concessions.

Moreover, as a small Gulf country, Qatar clearly has no vested interests in supporting the Taliban or the Afghan Government and can be taken by both as a reasonably neutral mediator. Lastly, Qatar is also likely to be funding this entire venture, from the office itself to the numerous return flights that will be needed. Taken together these qualities and Qatar’s pedigree mean that the list of potential countries to host – and likely fund – the office was exceedingly short.

Qatar’s motivation is – as ever – to maintain its place at the centre of the world’s attention. There comes with such attention a certain safety in the glaring lights of the international scene, not something that can be scoffed at by a tiny, exceedingly rich state hemmed in by significantly larger neighbours with whom they do not have the best of relations, in a region of profound instability. More specifically, this exact role that Qatar is playing with this issue is the personification of Qatar’s recent strategy of positioning itself as the key interlocutor between the West and Muslim actors with whom the West has trouble dealing. This exact dynamic can be seen in Qatar’s recent role in Libya, where it hopes to place itself between Western states and the emerging Islamic government, after cultivating relations with, for example, Ali Al Salabi – one of Libya’s most prominent clerics – for many years. So too can one discern such a relationship with Qatar’s attempts to build and use relations with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen.

Step towards peace

Overall, while this move is certainly a step towards brokering some kind of peace in Afghanistan, opening up far greater possibilities of meaningful interaction between all sides, it is but the first step along a long and winding road. Qatari facilitation can be exceedingly useful, but it will still take courage on all sides to take the necessary concessionary steps incumbent upon all actors seeking to close violent conflicts.

Published on RUSI.org

Fake Taliban negotiator fools NATO 23, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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Much has been made recently of the NATO negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Progress was reported on numerous occasions in ‘talks’ with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the second highest official in the Taliban movement. The problem is that the man with whom they were negotiating was not actually who he said he was. Seems he was just a chancer trying his luck, perhaps a shopkeeper from Quetta in Pakistan.

Now he has enough money and kudos to retire for life.

If only those involved had taken Foreign Policy’s top 10 tips to tell if your new ally is actually an impostor.

10. Keeps asking if the peace talks can be held in the Maldives

9. Eyepatch switches sides from meeting to meeting

8. Introduces himself as “Colonel Iqbal from the ISI”

7. Runs up a large minibar tab at the Four Seasons Kabul

6. Wife angling for a spot on “The Real Housewives of Kandahar”

5. Claims to be texting Mullah Omar but is actually just playing Angry Birds the whole time

4. Offers to settle Afghan War with a game of Jenga

3. Turban made of an actual towel

2. Wears trench coat, offers to sell the letters O and U

1.  Offers to trade Osama bin Laden for Justin Bieber

Bush & Obama’s drone attacks map 10, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia.
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This excellent picture/map is taken from the Atlantic.

Pakistan floods satellite image comparison 18, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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These pictures were taken on the 10th August 2009 and 11th of August. 2010. They show, better than anything I’ve seen yet, the veritable  explosion of the River Indus. Don’t forget that these are satellite images and the scale is enormous: these pictures show essentially all of Pakistan.

(NB. Just to be clear, the turquoise splodges are clouds)

CIA attempt to persuade Europeans to maintain forces in Afghanistan 29, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia.
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Wikileaks has obtained a classified ‘not for foreigners’ CIA memo discussing strategies to shore up European support for ISAF forces in Afghanistan. In the wake of the Dutch Government’s demise over troop questions, the report states that there is a similarly grim outlook in France and Germany.

In France the report suggests focusing on the Afghan refugees as a way of ‘promoting’ the issue, whereas in Germany the notion of stressing the consequences that would negatively affect German interests is suggested as the way to proceed. Additionally, a focus on the multilateral and humanitarian nature of the conflict might shore up German support.

Using President Obama’s high regards in Europe was also suggested as a strategy. Were he to stress his full commitment to the process and the gains for Afghan women, this might also prove advantageous.

Al Qaeda’s caves 3, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia, Terrorism.
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This is what an Al Qaeda-ish cave looks like.

Not this.

Rumsfeld was such a spectacular liar.

Intercontinental Hotel Kabul 15, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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The Intercontinental was perched above the city with wonderful views. It was where the western businesspeople, the diplomats and the rich tourists all stayed. But it also quickly became the place for the Kabul elite to go – for tea, for parties, and for weddings. They were the modern people of Kabul who were helping to make the King’s vision come true.They were also a “slimy opportunistic clique” – according to Nancy Hatch Dupree. She was an American archaeologist who knew everyone in Kabul.

And then rock music came to Kabul, courtesy of the Intercontinental Hotel.

The Intercontinental’s food and beverages manager asked a musician called Claude Selvaradna to create a house band for the hotel. Claude had been a sergeant in the Sri Lankan army but now he lived in Kabul and he knew that rock music was the future. He brought in some musicians from Sri Lanka and put together a band he called The Esquire Set.

For what can probably be described as the definitive history of Kabul take your time and go through its history at Adam Curtis’ blog at the BBC.

US aid to Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia, Iraq, Yemen.
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By 2008, nonmilitary [US] aid to Yemen had dwindled to less than $20 million. Afghanistan is expected to receive $2.7 billion a year in nonmilitary aid, Pakistan $1.5 billion and Iraq $500 million.

The administration doubled Yemen’s economic aid last year, but as Barbara K. Bodine, another former ambassador, pointed out, the amount “works out to $1.60 per Yemeni.”

The NYT.

Rory Stewart on efforts to counter the Taliban 2, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia.
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The ever-erudite and persuasive Rory Stewart has written an excellent essay on Obama, the US and their strategies to counter the Taliban. It’s well worth the read.

Interview with a suicide bomber 8, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia, Random.
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Hat tip: Comment Central