Why the Taliban are Backing the Qatar Office Proposal

Player utilities

Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Afghanistan today officially welcomed peace talks between the United States and the Taliban. It also welcomed the proposed opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf Emirate of Qatar. US and Afghan officials hope the new office will help hasten the end of the war in Afghanistan. Officials in Qatar lead by the country's monarch may be relishing the fact that they get to play the role of matchmaker in any deal. Qatar, which is home to the Al Jazeera news network has worked hard to increase its influence in the region. David Roberts is with the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank. He's based in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Roberts says the opening of a Taliban office there makes a certain amount of sense.

David Roberts: Qatar has been involved for a little while now with America and Germany specifically, to try to I suppose engineer some kind of a resolution to some degree. And to be perfectly honest it makes a lot of sense. It doesn't come as a surprise to me that this has happened here. Qatar has a quite long and illustrious history in recent years of trying to help with mediating in various conflicts.

Werman: Well, we'll get to that in recent history, but as far as the Taliban, what does it mean to have an office in Qatar? I mean in my mind I see Taliban headquarters on the door of the office. What kind of physical profile will this office actually have?

Roberts: Yeah, indeed, I'm curious about that myself. I confess I don't know. I don't think anyone does to be perfectly honest. A lot of the way things work in Qatar are pretty ad hoc, no one knows specifically what the form will be. But in terms of the use of the office, I mean if we look at a couple of recent attempts to get some kind of negotiation going in Afghanistan, in September last year an Afghan government mediator was assassinated because he couldn't find the right Taliban person to speak to. And the year before the American was fined several hundred thousands dollars for pretty much the same reason. So with the office here it'll provide a bona fide represents to the Taliban, which it's a very small step, but a crucial one.

Werman: As you say David, I mean this is the latest of several efforts by Qatar. It's made efforts to try and broker deals in Syria, and Darfur and Sudan, on and off in Yemen. It sent four of its Mirage jets to the no-fly zone over Libya. Now this business with the Taliban. Why is Qatar stepping forward internationally?

Roberts: To some degree it's because it can. It's a very small state. It's a threat to no one. It's completely secured by America, it has two huge bases here, so it's sort of intrinsically able to do this. The last point on that idea is obviously it's a very small place as I say; if the mayor or the prime minister who's very emboldened here, if they have an idea that they want to push forward no one in the bureaucracy will stop them at all. So it's quite personalized in that way. And in recent years the elite have obviously had this desire to mediate in conflicts around the region. And if I could just mention Qatar and Darfur, they've been involved there for many years now to affect some kind of a resolution there. So why they're doing this, yes, I think we can mention some altruistic reasons perhaps, but let's not forget that Sudan is the bread basket of Africa as it's known. Qatar is a very food insecure country. And obviously with all these years of negotiations they've built up a huge amount of goodwill in the country, not to mention a huge raft of contacts. So in that specific example we can see other reasons afoot shall we say. And you know, we can't go through all the examples, but there are always multiple reasons essentially for this.

Werman: David Roberts, the deputy director of the Qatar office of the Royal United Services Institute. He joined us from the capital, Doha. Thank you very much indeed.

Roberts: Thank you.