KABUL – In a recent interview with CNN on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, shed light on a clandestine meeting that took place in Kandahar with the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada. Qatar has played a pivotal role in facilitating dialogue between various parties in Afghanistan over the past decade, even in the aftermath of the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in August 2021.
Besides hosting talks between the Taliban and Western representatives, Qatar has maintained an open channel with the interim Afghan administration. However, the meeting with Akhunzada in his birthplace of Kandahar held particular significance due to his pivotal role in decision-making in Afghanistan, especially concerning recent stringent Taliban policies affecting women and girls.
During the CNN interview, Sheikh Mohammed disclosed details of this previously undisclosed meeting, emphasizing Qatar’s stance on cooperation and integration with the international community. He stated, “We’ve been very clear, if you want to be part of the international community, you need to cooperate with us. You need to work with us, together, in order to have your country as a Muslim modern country as Qatar.”
Sheikh Mohammed also highlighted Qatar’s commitment to women’s rights, contrasting it with the Taliban’s recent actions, which have drawn parallels with their rule in the 1990s. He pointed out that despite promising a more moderate approach, the Taliban had imposed restrictions on women, including barring girls from attending school in March 2022 and prohibiting females from university and NGO work in December 2022.
The Qatari delegation emphasized during the Kandahar meeting that the interim Afghan administration should at least allow women working with non-governmental organizations to return to their jobs. Sheikh Mohammed stressed the moral role of Muslim scholars in engaging with Akhunzada, emphasizing the importance of Muslim countries and regional nations speaking up to promote normalcy in society.
When asked about Qatar’s hopes for a reversal of strict policies in Afghanistan, Sheikh Mohammed expressed optimism, stating, “We are always hopeful.” Qatar’s role in fostering dialogue and advocating for women’s rights in Afghanistan remains a critical aspect of the ongoing developments in the region.