A senior Qatari official says Qatar hosted the Taliban militant group based on a request from the United States, whose president, along with a number of Arab regimes, has been pressuring Doha over what they say is its support for extremist groups.
Mutlaq al-Qahtani, a senior counterterrorism adviser to Qatar’s foreign minister, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that Qatar hosted the Taliban “by request by the US government” and as part of Qatar’s “open-door policy, to facilitate talks, to mediate and to bring peace.”
The Taliban opened a “political office” in Qatar in 2013, but the Qatari government later shut it down. Taliban leaders are still said to be in Doha, however.
Qatar has come under intense pressure from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, the Maldives, and Egypt — all of which have broken off ties with Doha — and the US over accusations that the Qatari government sponsors extremist groups, including the Taliban.
A recent visit by US President Donald Trump to Riyadh, where he called on Arab countries to fight extremists and “isolate” Iran, is believed to have emboldened the Saudi rulers to pursue their policies more aggressively, including by assailing Qatar.
Those regional countries have suspended all land, air, and sea traffic with Qatar, ejected its diplomats, and ordered most Qatari citizens to leave.
Trump poured fuel on the fire of the dispute between Qatar and its adversaries by suggesting earlier in a tweet that his call in Riyadh for the isolation of terror sponsors was the reason why Qatar was being targeted.
This is while Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had just earlier attempted in a more diplomatically savvy manner to avoid a stirring up of tensions between the Arab countries involved in the dispute, calling for dialog to resolve the tensions.
Qahtani said in his Al Jazeera interview that Qatar “was facilitating the talks between the Americans, the Taliban, and the government of Afghanistan.”
The US has a military base in Qatar, which it says is crucial to its operations in the Middle East.
The diplomatic war on Qatar has been spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, which is itself known as the main sponsor of violent Wahhabi terrorists. Some analysts believe the Saudi anger at Qatar is rather because Doha acts more independently of Riyadh in its foreign policy, including in relations with Iran.
Saudi Arabia is also unnerved by Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, where a democratically-elected president affiliated with the movement was in 2013 toppled in a coup lauded by Riyadh.
Qatar has rejected the accusations that it supports extremism, and the country’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said Doha will not “surrender” under political pressure.
Saudi ‘policy of domination will fail’
Separately, Qahtani told AFP that the diplomatic pressures and other restrictions on Qatar were in fact really meant to make Doha fall into line behind Saudi Arabia in Riyadh’s regional ambitions.
“I think this is not about counterterrorism, it’s not about terror financing,” he said. “I think it is about an orchestrated campaign against my country to pressure my country to change its active, independent foreign policy.”
“This policy of domination and control is not going to work,” Qahtani stressed.
‘Qatar to engage with more countries’
Iran has called for dialog among the disputing Arab countries. So has Turkey, which has taken a strong stance in support of Doha. Both Tehran and Ankara have been sending foodstuffs to Qatar amid the blockage of transit routes by Saudi Arabia and the other countries.
Kuwait and Oman have stayed impartial, trying to broker a resolution of the dispute.
Qahtani further told AFP that while Qatar would continue to seek a dialog-based resolution of the recent tensions, it would seek to engage with more countries as part of its independent foreign policy.
“We have more friends, more than other people might think,” the Qatari official said. “So we are engaged and want to engage with more countries.”
Sheikh Mohammed, the Qatari foreign minister, visited Germany and Russia over the weekend to discuss the ongoing tensions.
Meanwhile, Russia, too, has voiced readiness to increase its exports of agricultural products to Qatar.
Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Agriculture Jambulat Khatuov made the announcement on Thursday. On Sunday, the Qatari foreign minister thanked Russia but said the help was not needed so far.
“Iran offered help, as well as other friendly countries. Russia offered us help, when we need it. But as for now we do not need it. What we use now is the channels in Turkey and other countries,” Sheikh Mohammed told the Rossiya 24 broadcaster.