Despite the fall of Afghanistan’s shaky republic government, the conflict has not ended. The US pullout on August 31, 2021 marked the triumph of the Taliban. Yet new groups such the National Resistance Front, the National Liberation Front and many others, including Islamic State of Khurasan, have emerged to challenge the Taliban. There is also internal conflict between the Taliban’s main factions and the Haqqani network. The global community has not yet recognized the Taliban for good reason. Peace and security are still a long way away.
Potential for Mediation in Afghanistan
Afghanistan was once the venue for the Great Game. The British Empire and the Soviet Union jostled for influence here. Today, external articles are involved too. Pakistan, the US, India, Iran, Russia, Turkey, China and the EU are involved in one way or another in Afghanistan. There are many organizations, regions and ethnic groups jostling for power as well.
With so many actors in the conflict, Afghanistan needs a neutral mediator. In the past, the likes of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran have tried to mediate but failed because they were unable to remain neutral. Qatar, however, is a neutral player in Afghanistan and its efforts deserve a closer look.
Complicated Past but Profitable Future
Earlier mediation efforts by Qatar did not prevent the Taliban’s dramatic takeover in Afghanistan but Qatar’s leverage is considerable. Economic factors, neutrality, security, branding, and friendly connections with conservative Islamists make Qatar uniquely positioned to be a successful mediator.
In the last two decades, Qatar sought to make an impact on the international stage by playing mediation roles since it lacks political clout and military power. Accordingly, Qatar authorities have demonstrated an ability to perform third-party dispute settlements and have also proved themselves to be successful local and worldwide investors. Qatar’s economic success has made them a major player on the global energy scene, heightening their importance in the eyes of public and private sectors around the world.
Qatar’s foreign policy aim is to position itself as the champion of Arab diplomacy in the Arab and Islamic world, particularly the Middle East. Doha, Qatar’s Capital, sees itself as a beneficent mediator in all disputes. In addition, Qatar is not a member of any group in the Afghanistan conflict. This implies that Doha has no commercial ties to the Afghanistan war, which has earned Qatar the trust of other prominent actors in the conflict.
Qatar has been heavily engaged in Afghanistan in recent years, using its advantage of historical experience to position itself as a key participant in several mediation procedures. They also established a unique modality for dispute resolution, which is called the Qatari Model of Conflict Resolution (QMCR). It is through this model that Doha has engaged in different conflict resolution processes in Middle Eastern and North African nations—as well as in the failed Afghanistan peace process.
Even though Qatar’s goal of ending the Afghanistan conflict has not yet been achieved, there is still potential that Doha can be successful in mediation efforts to resolve the newest phase of the crisis in Afghanistan.
A Breakthrough Plan for Qatar
The following seven steps can help Doha achieve success in ending the half-century conflict in Afghanistan.
Step 1: The most important reason for Doha’s advantage in the Afghanistan peace process is Qatar hosting the Taliban. Many of the group’s leaders have lived in Qatar over the last 20 years and the group’s political office has long operated out of the country.
However, this could raise concerns about partiality and Qatar’s role in the conflict since the Taliban is an extremist and terrorist group. Therefore, Qatar should work to assure the people of Afghanistan and anti-Taliban groups of its intention to support a secure Afghanistan and to adopt an inclusive citizen-oriented democratic set-up. Qatar should open offices of the Taliban’s oppositions abroad, particularly an office for the National Resistance Front in Doha. This would lay the groundwork for building trust and direct talks between the conflicting factions.
Step 2: The nature of hostilities varies by location. Afghanistan’s history, culture, identity, and narratives are distinctly different from those of the Arab world, like Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Sudan. The lack of a clear definition of the relationships among ethnic groups and an effective government structure has caused the crisis to be extended. Therefore, mediation to define a social contract and build trust among the leaders, elites and intellectuals of Afghanistan will help solve the ongoing crisis.
Step 3: Doha has often used a checkbook approach, or financial leverage, during mediations. However, this is a potential challenge in the Afghanistan context. Doha’s financial assistance to the Taliban and the republic government often resulted in a short-term or shaky peace, like the temporary ceasefire in 2020. However, Qatar’s leadership can use its clout to join the US and NATO as a hard leveraging factor through likely military means, alongside checkbooks. To mediate, a combination of financial and military leverage is required in Afghanistan given the Taliban’s ideological and rejectionist nature.
Step 4: Since 2018, US representatives have visited the Taliban in their Qatar headquarters, but the Qatari government has attempted to keep these visits private to the public. Doha thought it could break the ice between the Taliban and the USA by not publicly revealing the agenda or the significance of the meetings. However, Qatar’s covert approach to talking to the Taliban resulted in a lack of trust in Doha in some parts of Afghanistan and anti-Taliban organizations. Therefore, Qatar should begin open negotiations instead.
Step 5: Since Doha’s aim is to bring all stakeholders to the table, the Qatari government should also use the QMCR approach both in and outside Afghanistan. For example, Doha even attempted to bring Iran and US officials to the table to talk about Iran’s nuclear issue.
Step 6: The QMCR model also faces challenges because of criticisms of Qatar’s approach to Afghanistan society. Many feel that Qatar has closer ties to Pashtunwali and the Taliban than the Persianized Tajiks because of Qatar’s allegiance to Salafi and Deobandi Orthodoxy. Some in Afghanistan also believe that Doha’s foreign policy strengthened the Taliban. To distinguish Qatar as a neutral player, it must gain the trust of its critics. To do this, Qatar must be sensitive to the complexities of the socio-political fabric of Afghanistan. This is vital for ending the Afghanistan conflict.
Step 7: Qatar can also forestall future conflict in the new Taliban-led Afghanistan. This entails building trust between conflicted parties, which Doha must understand cannot be done overnight. QMCR’s major priority should be to reduce conflict between the National Resistance Forces, other anti-Taliban fighters, and the Taliban in various districts of Afghanistan.
The Best Way Forward
Considering the half-century conflict in Afghanistan has domestic and international dimensions, Qatar has the opportunity to play an effective role as a powerful mediator. This can bring major achievements for Afghanistan, but also for Qatar’s foreign policy interests.
Qatar has projected its mediation capacities as part of its foreign policy brand, but its mediation efforts in international diplomacy have largely been unsuccessful. Establishing lasting peace is not only important to end this long-term crisis in Afghanistan, but Qatar can regain its reputation as a successful mediator.
Ultimately, the Qatar conflict resolution model must make adjustments while retaining its core principles. If the government of Qatar adopts this new approach to this complex crisis, it stands a strong chance of success.
[Lane Gibson edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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