Qatar ready to facilitate talks between Washington, Afghanistan

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Washington: The United States and Qatar have agreed that Qatar will represent the diplomatic interests of the United States in Afghanistan, said a senior US official.

Qatar will sign an arrangement with the US on Friday to assume the role of “protecting power” for US interests to help facilitate any formal communication between Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which the United States does not recognise.

The move comes at a time when the United States and other Western countries are grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after the hardline group took over Afghanistan in a lightning advance in August as US-led forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.

Many countries including the United States and European states are reluctant to formally recognise the Taliban as critics say they are backtracking on pledges of political and ethnic inclusivity and not to sideline women and minorities.

But with winter approaching, many countries realise they need to engage more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the deal with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani at a news conference after their meeting on Friday.

According to the arrangement, which will come into effect on Dec. 31, Qatar will dedicate certain staff from its embassy in Afghanistan to a US Interests Section and will coordinate closely with US State Department and with US mission in Doha.

The US official said the United States would also continue its engagement with the Taliban through the Qatari capital, Doha, where the Taliban have maintained a political office for years.