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World Exclusive-UAE holds talks with Taliban to run Kabul airport - foreign diplomats

10:41  24 november  2021
10:41  24 november  2021 Source:   reuters.com

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Taliban officials say forces inside Kabul airport are ready to take over, but US denies handing names of Afghan allies to Taliban . United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed the deaths and said a further two people President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey has held its first talks with the Taliban in Kabul , adding that Ankara was still assessing the group’s offer to run the

Taliban fighters took control of another city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the eighth provincial capital to fall to them in six days, as U.S.-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal. read more. Turkey has offered to deploy troops at Kabul airport after NATO withdraws and has held In comments to foreign media in Islamabad on Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said after talks with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar that efforts would be made to facilitate talks between the Taliban and Ankara. "The best thing is for Turkey and the Taliban to have a face-to-face

By Alexander Cornwell

FILE PHOTO: Taliban soldiers stand in front of a sign at the international airport in Kabul © Reuters/WANA NEWS AGENCY FILE PHOTO: Taliban soldiers stand in front of a sign at the international airport in Kabul

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has held talks with the Taliban to run Kabul airport, going up against Gulf rival Qatar in a diplomatic tussle for influence with Afghanistan's new rulers, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.

UAE officials have held a series of discussions with the group in recent weeks to discuss operating the airport that serves as landlocked Afghanistan's main air link to the world, the foreign diplomats based in the Gulf region told Reuters.

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Staff of the United Kingdom’s embassy in Kabul , who hurriedly evacuated following the Taliban takeover on August 15, have left documents with contact details of Afghans working for them, as well as other identifying information such as job applications of Afghans, according to an exclusive report by The Times in the UK. Kabul airport attack kills 60 Afghans, 12 US troops. Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul ’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover.

The talks demonstrate how countries are seeking to assert their influence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan even as the hardline Islamist group largely remains an international pariah and its government not formally recognised by any country.

The Emiratis are keen to counter diplomatic clout enjoyed there by Qatar, according to the sources who declined to be name due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The Qataris have been helping run the Hamid Karzai International Airport along with Turkey after playing a major role in evacuation efforts following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal in August, and have said they are willing to take over the operations.

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

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Afghanistan latest: Live updates as Kabul airport rushed by people seeking flights out. The departure of UAE diplomats from Afghanistan was "well under way," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said on Monday. Several nations provided aircraft to assist in the "The ministry can also confirm that the UAE is currently working on facilitating a safe evacuation from Afghanistan through UAE airports , of diplomatic staff from France, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, Australia, the Office of the United Nations Food Programme, the United States

The Taliban have asked Turkey for technical help to run Kabul airport after the departure of foreign forces but insist that Ankara's military also withdraw fully by the end-August deadline, two Turkish officials told Reuters. "Ensuring the safety of workers without the Turkish Armed Forces is a risky job," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Talks with the Taliban on the issue were ongoing and, in the meantime, preparations for a troop withdrawal had been completed, he said. It was unclear whether Turkey would agree to give technical assistance if its troops were not there to provide security.

A senior Emirati foreign ministry official said the UAE, which previously ran Kabul airport during the U.S.-backed Afghan republic, "remains committed to continuing to assist in operating" it to ensure humanitarian access and safe passage.

Abu Dhabi also aided recent evacuation efforts.

The Taliban and Qatari authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

Two of the diplomats said the Taliban has also sought financial assistance from the UAE, though they added it was not clear if this was related to the airport discussions.

The Emirati foreign ministry official, Salem Al Zaabi, director of international security cooperation, did not respond to a question on whether the UAE was considering providing financial help to the Taliban.

FILE PHOTO: A member of Taliban security forces stands guard in front of a Qatar Airways airplane boarding passengers, in Kabul © Reuters/WANA NEWS AGENCY FILE PHOTO: A member of Taliban security forces stands guard in front of a Qatar Airways airplane boarding passengers, in Kabul

AIRPORT INTELLIGENCE

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The Taliban has told the United States it will provide safe passage for civilians to reach the airport in Afghanistan's capital Kabul , U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday. Sullivan also told a White House news briefing that the United States believes the Kabul evacuation can go until Aug. 31 and it is talking to the Taliban about the exact timetable. The United States and Western allies have been scrambling to evacuate diplomats and civilians after Taliban forces swept back into power, with thousands of Americans still in the country.

Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. withdrawal in Kabul , Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. The EU and Germany have frozen development funds to the country — worth over a billion euros over the next seven years — until they say the Taliban can fulfil certain conditions, notably on human rights. The majority of the billions of dollars Afghanistan holds in foreign reserves is now frozen in America, pressuring its now-depreciating Afghani currency.

One key issue that's still to be resolved between the Taliban and potential airport operators is who would provide security at the site, the four diplomats said. The Taliban say they do not want foreign forces in the country following their return to power after two decades of war.

Still, Qatari special forces are presently providing security within the airport's perimeter, the diplomats added, while Taliban special forces were patrolling areas outside.

FILE PHOTO: Taliban forces patrol at a runway a day after U.S troops withdrawal from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul © Reuters/STRINGER FILE PHOTO: Taliban forces patrol at a runway a day after U.S troops withdrawal from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul

So far countries have been reluctant to formally recognise the Taliban's government, accusing the group of backtracking on pledges to uphold the rights of women and minorities.

Yet Qatari officials have urged greater international engagement with the Taliban to prevent impoverished Afghanistan from falling into a humanitarian crisis. Gulf states have also voiced concern https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gulf-arabs-jittery-about-taliban-takeover-may-seek-pragmatic-ties-2021-08-20 that the U.S. withdrawal would allow al Qaeda to regain a foothold in Afghanistan.

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While there is little commercial benefit for any operator, the airport would provide a much-needed source of intelligence on movements in and out of the country, according to the four diplomats, who said that since the withdrawal many countries have lacked real-time information.

REGIONAL RIVALRIES

Qatar and the UAE have had strained relations for years as they competed for regional influence.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and their allies boycotted Qatar for over three years, cutting off political, trade and transport ties, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism - a charge that it denies. The dispute was resolved in January this year.

Qatar has long been the gateway to the Taliban, with Doha hosting the group's political office since 2013 and negotiations with the U.S. in early 2020 that led to the withdrawal.

Last week, Qatari officials strengthened their position by signing an accord https://www.reuters.com/world/exclusive-qatar-act-us-diplomatic-representative-afghanistan-official-2021-11-12 to represent American diplomatic interests in Afghanistan.

FILE PHOTO: A Qatari security force member patrols near a plane carrying passengers bound for Qatar, in Kabul © Reuters/WANA NEWS AGENCY FILE PHOTO: A Qatari security force member patrols near a plane carrying passengers bound for Qatar, in Kabul

The UAE has maintained ties with the Taliban too, according to two of the diplomats. They said the country had been home to some members of the group in recent years, including Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who they added lived in the Sharjah emirate with his family from at least 2013. Stanikzai is now deputy foreign minister in the Taliban administration.

FILE PHOTO: Member of Taliban forces stands guard at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul © Reuters/STRINGER FILE PHOTO: Member of Taliban forces stands guard at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul

Al Zaabi did not respond to questions on the UAE's relationship with Stanikzai. The Taliban did not immediately respond to queries on Stanikzai living in the UAE.

The Taliban said this month that the UAE had reopened its embassy in Kabul. The UAE has not commented.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Jonathan Landay in Washington, Andrew Mills in Doha and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Pravin Char)

Taliban Wants Afghan President Removed, New Government Where Women Have More Rights .
Although the Taliban said they would not monopolize power in the region, they insist that a peace deal will not be reached until a new government is negotiated. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group's negotiating team, is promising that under the new government, women will be allowed to work, go to school and participate in politics—rights that were denied when the Taliban enforced a harsh version of Islam last time the group ruled the country.

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