Reports: Trump Pushing Afghanistan to Shut Down Taliban ‘Political Office’ in Qatar

President Trump met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Ghani praised Trump's new strategy in Afghanistan, saying it has made a "difference of day and night." (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

United States President Donald Trump is reportedly urging his Afghan counterpart to shut down the Taliban’s self-described “political office” in Doha, arguing that it has failed to accomplish its intended purpose of serving as a conduit for peace negotiations with the U.S. and Afghanistan.

This year, a Qatari official claimed Doha allowed the Taliban to establish its office in 2011 at the request of the United States government, led at the time by former President Barack Obama.

Qatar hosted the Taliban “by request of the U.S. government” and as part of Qatar’s “open-door policy, to facilitate talks, to mediate and to bring peace,” Mutlaq Al Qahtani, the Qatari foreign minister’s special envoy on counterterrorism, told Al Jazeera.

The allegation came after President Trump accused Qatar of “historically” funding “terrorism at a very high level,” a claim that Doha denies.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “is expected to agree to the closure, but a final decision has not yet been reached,” reports the Guardian, citing unnamed sources. “The issue was raised at a meeting between the two leaders on Thursday.”

In February, the Afghan leader reportedly expressed his opposition to the Taliban office to the Qatari foreign minister at a security conference in Munich, urging Doha to shut down the facility.

Last Tuesday, President Trump also brought up the issue of the Taliban office while meeting with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, notes the Guardian, adding:

The Afghan leadership sees the 36-strong informal delegation in Doha – which the Taliban calls its “political office” – as doing nothing to facilitate peace talks, merely conferring political legitimacy on a group Kabul views as no more than a tool of Pakistan.

Trump is said to be hostile to the maintenance of the Taliban office for several reasons. He portrays it as a failed initiative of his predecessor that has not led to the peace negotiations Barack Obama had hoped for. Meanwhile, the Saudi and Emirati monarchies have been pressing for its closure since its inception, seeing it as a symbol of Doha’s diplomatic prestige and US-Qatari ties.

Although Kabul would have to formally initiate a request to close the Taliban office, the ultimate decision lies with the terrorism-linked Qatari government.

The relationship between Qatar and the Trump administration has deteriorated since the American president accused the Gulf country of harboring jihadists.

Trump’s accusations came after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar, citing Iran-linked terrorism concerns.

“It is not known whether [Qatari emir] Tamim agreed to close the office [after meeting Trump], but he is eager to cultivate support from Washington at a time when his country has been subjected to a crippling economic blockade by hostile neighbors,” acknowledges the Guardian.

Also citing anonymous sources, TOLO News confirms that Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have discussed the issue of closing the Doha-based Taliban office.

The Taliban office played an instrumental role in the Obama administration-brokered exchange of deserter Bowe Bergdahl for five high-level Taliban prisoners from the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay to Qatar back in May 2014.

“Taliban officials have had an increasing presence in Qatar since approximately 2010. High-level Taliban officials and their families have reportedly moved to the country. Afghan diplomats in Doha have reported running into Taliban members on the street,” the non-governmental Counter Extremism Project (CEP) reported this year.

The Guardian cited an anonymous Western diplomate in Kabul as indicating that shutting down the Taliban office “would show a lack of determination to make peace negotiations work.”

Taliban terrorists, who have refused to engage in peace talks unless Kabul and Washington meet their terms, temporarily closed their Doha-based office in 2013, citing frustrations with their inability to reach an agreement with the United States and Afghanistan.

Arguing that they are winning the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, the Taliban has demanded complete U.S.-led coalition withdrawal, among other things, before negotiating a settlement with Kabul.

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