UAE in talks with Taliban to operate Kabul airport

Originally posted to The Middle East Monitor website, 25 November 2021

The United Arab Emirates has offered to operate Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Reuters reported yesterday.

This, the news agency said, was a means through which the UAE was trying to outdo its Gulf rival Qatar in a diplomatic tussle for influence in Afghanistan.

Reuters cited foreign diplomats based in the Gulf saying that the UAE officials have held a series of talks with the Taliban in recent weeks to discuss operating the airport.

Even though the Afghan government has not formally been recognised by any country, the talks show how countries are seeking to assert their influence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying, “the Emiratis are keen to counter diplomatic clout enjoyed there by Qatar.”

To date, Qatar and Turkey have been helping run Kabul airport after playing a major role in evacuation efforts following the chaotic US withdrawal in August, and have said that they are willing to take over the operations.

However, the Taliban has not yet formalised an arrangement with Qatar, the diplomats said.

The UAE, which previously ran Kabul airport during the US-led Afghan republic, remains committed to continuing to assist in operating it to ensure humanitarian access and safe passage, a senior Emirati Foreign Ministry official said.

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