'Protecting power': Qatar to act as US diplomatic representative in Afghanistan
Qatar and the United States signed an agreement on Friday that will see Doha act as Washington's diplomatic representative in Afghanistan and "protecting power", following the shuttering of its embassy during the Taliban takeover.
The agreement was one of two signed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani ahead of a strategic dialogue between the two top officials.
"Qatar will establish a US intersection within its embassy in Afghanistan to provide certain consular services and monitor the condition and security of US diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan," Blinken said during a news conference on Friday.
The second agreement would give Qatar a mandate to "facilitate the travel of Afghans with US Special Immigrant Visas".
Qatar, a gas-rich nation that hosts a major US airbase, helped evacuate thousands of Afghans and US citizens following the American withdrawal from the country and the Taliban's takeover of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 15 August.
Doha became the transit point for nearly half of the more than 120,000 people evacuated.
The country has also long acted as a mediator on Afghanistan, hosting the Taliban's talks with the United States under former President Donald Trump, and then with the now-deposed Afghan government.
The agreement, effective at the end of next month, would not mean US diplomatic recognition of the Taliban.
A US official told the Washington Post that the Qatari role would be similar to that of Switzerland, which represents US interests in Iran, another country with which Washington does not have diplomatic relations.
"It seems like the natural continuation of Qatar's support for the United States in Afghanistan to assume a 'protecting power' role", the official said on condition of anonymity.
"This will enable the United States to continue dialogue with the interim [Taliban] government, and provide consular services on the ground."
'Don't abandon Afghanistan'
The agreement comes as the US and other western countries grapple with how to engage with the Taliban. The US and other countries shut their embassies and withdrew diplomats as the Taliban seized Kabul.
Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country is facing a devastating humanitarian crisis after world powers cut off its access to international funding and froze the Afghan central bank's roughly $10bn in assets held abroad.
A United Nations official described the country's situation on Friday as "the worst humanitarian disaster we've ever seen".
Around 23 million people are in desperate need of food and 97 percent of the 38 million population are at risk of sinking into poverty, Abdallah al-Dardari, the resident representative for the UN Development Programme in Afghanistan, said on Wednesday.
Thani said that Qatar's top priority in Afghanistan is ensuring the facilitation of humanitarian aid into the country, adding there "is still much to be done".
"There will be a lot of challenges in the humanitarian situation and it's better for us to help the Afghan people over there now before things get much worse," the Qatari foreign minister said.
He further called on the international community to engage with Afghanistan rather than cutting it off, saying humanitarian assistance is not something that should be conditioned on political developments.
"We believe that abandoning Afghanistan will be a big mistake and ignoring it, because isolation has never been an answer or solution for any issue and engagement is the only way forward," he said.