Qatar, the Taliban’s Last-Standing Lifeline: An Interview with James Seevers

LOS ANGELES — In past years, Qatar has made continuous efforts to implement more democratic practices into the government and the daily lives of its citizens. Now, Qatar looks to  further these efforts internationally by primarily serving as the mediator between the Taliban and the rest of the world.

Qatar demonstrated its willingness to work with the extremist group when it announced “[it is]important to continue dialogue with the Taliban,” stated Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim, at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. “Boycotting them would only lead to polarisation and reactions, whereas dialogue could be fruitful.” This new goodwill toward the Taliban has raised questions within the international community regarding the future of global relations, specifically within the Middle East. 

Glimpse from the Globe sat down with James Seevers, a professor for the Georgetown Foreign School of Service, to discuss what this possible allyship entails and what the future holds for Qatar and its foreign diplomacy.

When asked about his opinions on Qatar’s remarks from the UNGA Conference and its future implications, Seevers replied, “Qatar has engaged with the Taliban for some time, allowing them to open an office in Doha in 2013 and hosting talks between the Taliban and the United States in recent years. Qatar’s relationship with the Taliban gives it significant influence in Afghanistan, and Qatari officials have said that they seek to encourage the Taliban to be inclusive as it forms a new government.” 

Not only is Qatar maintaining strong relationships with countries such as the United States, but it is also making strong efforts to nurture relationships with the Taliban in order to have increased influence in both regions of the world. By maintaining close ties with the opposing governments, Qatar ensures security from both nations by acting as their only source of communication.

In 2013, Qatar and the U.S. helped the Taliban open an office in Doha with the intention of creating a neutral space for negotiations with the extremist group. By allowing the Taliban to set up its own international communications headquarters in their capital, Qatar provided the extremist group with a way to establish relations with nation-states throughout the world. 

With the establishment of this office and the most recent remarks at the UNGA Conference, many experts and government officials have wondered whether an allyship between Qatar and the Taliban will likely happen in the near future. 

Seevers responds to this by stating that, “Qatar will likely move carefully in its relations with the Taliban, and any decision about diplomatic recognition, given the Taliban’s history of brutal rule when they were in power pre-2001.” 

Since 1995, when Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father, Qatar has been a symbol of democracy and equal rights for the Middle East. Supporting any group or nation that violates those ideals would go against many beliefs Qatar stands for, causing even more confusion behind the true intentions of this new alliance. 

With no allyship in the cards for the near future, many question Qatar’s true intentions when it supported the Taliban’s need for open communication with the world. Seevers believes it was a tactful move because it will “give Qatar a significant role in global politics, increase its influence and smart power, and, in a broad sense, enhance its own security.”

Qatar acts as a mediator by controlling all communication between the Taliban and any international state, hence making it a strong nation to have as an ally. Now with many countries debating whether it is the right choice to work with the Taliban, and using Qatar to do so, Qatar is aware that it is too indispensable for global security for any other nations to threaten its power and sovereignty.

After the U.S.’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States moved its Afghan embassy from Kabul, Afghanistan to Doha, Qatar. This move helped strengthen Qatar’s influence, and according to Seevers, it also “help[ed]the U.S. government during a challenging period and further strengthened bilateral relations.” 

By already having a strong presence within Qatar, including the establishment of the U.S.’ Al Udeid Air Base, the UnitedStates has found a way to secure its footing within the Middle East and retain some control over affairs occuring in the region. 

The United States has continued this hunt for more influence and security within the Middle East in recent days, and has done so through the “recent visit to Qatar by both Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin,” mentioned Seevers. He continued, “it demonstrated U.S. appreciation for the invaluable assistance Qatar provided in the evacuation of Afghans, Americans and others from Afghanistan when Kabul fell.” 

As the United States continues to find ways to establish more control during the Taliban’s rise in power, Qatar will be a key leader in continuing these efforts and communications.

“Qatar will likely continue to serve as an important go-between as events unfold on the ground and the world grapples with how to deal with an Afghanistan led by the Taliban,” Seevers said.

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Sophia Lyman

Sophia Lyman is currently a freshman here at USC and is majoring in International Relations, with a minor in Pre-Law: Human Rights. She has always been writing from a young age, whether that was writing journal entries of her daily life in Argentina and Orange County, or song lyrics inspired by her international travels with family. She continued developing her writing skills, and eventually wrote and published a book on Amazon, Leo’s Adventures, that went in hand with her nonprofit, the Emergency Preparedness Program. Sophia decided to join Glimpse from the Globe because she wanted to use her abilities to help promote the issues people are facing in other parts of the world, and encourage others to find ways they can help.

sflyman@usc.edu