UAE to handle Afghan airports operations after deal with Taliban

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Doha’s condition that Qatari security personnel be present at the airport is considered a “sticking point” in the negotiations with Doha, Reuters reported.

The Taliban is ceding management of Afghanistan’s airports to a company based in the United Arab Emirates after months of talks with the latter, according to the Washington Post.

A Memorandum of Understanding was inked on Tuesday in Kabul “for the regulation and management of the country’s four airports” by Taliban acting first Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar and Razack Aslam Mohammed Abdur Razack of Gulf Agency Company Dubai (GAC), a shipping and logistics company, according to the local Bakhtar News Agency.

The agreement applies to airports located in Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. A total of four airports, according to the local news agency.

The deal reportedly solely applies to the logistics at the airports and not security, which has been considered a “sticking point” in previous discussions with potential partners to run the sites.

The deal was reached “after long negotiations,” Baradar said at the signing.

A source with knowledge about the negotiations told Reuters that a “sticking point in the negotiations with Qatar has been Doha’s condition that Qatari security personnel be present at the airport.”

This move comes as trilateral talks between Qatar, Turkey, and the interim Afghan government continue to discuss pending contracts in relation to five Afghan airports that Doha and Ankara would potentially help operate.

Meanwhile Al Jazeera reported that the Afghan minister said: “We renewed the contract with an Emirati company, which provides services on the ground only, and we did not address the issue of organising and managing Kabul International Airport in these negotiations.”

On Tuesday, the Afghan Acting Minister of Aviation and Transport Hamidullah Akhundzadeh said that negotiations are “underway” with Qatar and Turkey to organise and manage Kabul International Airport, adding that his government hopes to attract investments to Afghan airports.

Qatar and Turkey efforts in Afghan airports

Temporary Qatari and Turkish engineering teams were dispatched to Kabul after the completion of the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan on 31 August last year. The Qatari team was accompanied by its own security personnel.

The teams were tasked to repair parts of the Hamid Karzai International Airport to resume civilian flights following mass evacuations.

The teams were able to get the airport to run within a short period of time, enabling the resumption of civilian flights as well as dozens of evacuation trips, many of which were operated by the Gulf country’s national carrier, Qatar Airways.

The two countries have been holding talks with the interim Afghan administration since last year over operating some of the country’s airports. As of April, Qatari and Turkish companies were running technical parts of the airport without an official contract.

“We technically and financially worked [at the airport] and provided the Taliban with a proposal that they will review and there might be a visit to Kabul soon and we are waiting for a response from the Taliban,” the Turkish Ambassador to Qatar Mustafa Göksu told Doha News in February.

Between Qatar and its regional ally Turkey, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in late December 2021 in a bid to operate parts of Afghanistan’s airports under “equal partnership.”

Earlier in April, Afghanistan’s acting government had requested the foreign ministry to set a deadline for a contract with Qatar over the operations of Afghan airports.

Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August, the Gulf country carried out the largest airlift of people in history by evacuating at least 70,000 Afghans and foreigners.

The UAE and Taliban

In 2017, a former Afghan fighter turned mediator revealed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE attempted to host the Taliban before the group set up an office in Doha in June 2013, Al Jazeera reported.

As for the country’s airport operations, the UAE held talks with the Taliban-run Afghan administration in hopes to convince Kabul’s new authorities to enable Abu Dhabi to operate the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Reuters reported in late November last year.