According to sources familiar with the talks, the Taliban and the United Arab Emirates are set to strike a deal for the Gulf country to run Kabul airport and several others in Afghanistan, which could be announced within weeks.
A deal would help Islamist militants ease their isolation from the outside world as they rule a poor country beset by drought, widespread hunger and economic crisis.
The deal would also give Abu Dhabi victory in its diplomatic tussle with Qatar for the influence of the new rulers of Afghanistan.
The Taliban, whose government remains an international pariah without formal recognition, has forced regional powers including Qatar and Turkey to operate Kabul airport, shut down Afghanistan’s main air links with the world, and others.
But after months of talks, and raising the prospect of a UAE-Turkey-Qatar deal at one point, the Taliban is ready to hand over operations entirely to the United Arab Emirates, which previously ran Afghan airports, sources said. .
Sources said that under the deal with the United Arab Emirates, Afghans will be deployed at airports, including in security roles, a criterion for the Taliban which staunchly opposes the presence of foreign forces.
He added that an Emirati state-linked contractor would also provide security services, while negotiations were on to manage Afghanistan’s airspace.
The Emirati state-affiliated GAAC, which was involved in running security and ground handling services at Afghan airports before the Taliban takeover, was awarded the ground handling contract in May shortly after Taliban officials visited Abu Dhabi.
Sources said that Qatar and Turkey’s joint talks with the Taliban broke down around the same time.
Emirates officials did not immediately comment when contacted by Reuters. GAAC did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the Taliban Ministry of Transport confirmed that an aviation security contract has already been signed with the UAE, but said the air traffic contract has not yet been finalized or ratified.
Sources said UAE Airlines, which had not flown to Afghanistan since its takeover by the Taliban last year, was expected to resume flights to Kabul and possibly other Afghan airports after the deal is finalised.
Sources said that in the coming months for the ground services contract, the Taliban repeatedly made vague changes to its team negotiating with Qatar and Turkey.
The Taliban then sought to change the agreed terms by raising airport fees and taxes and weakening Qatar and Turkey’s control over revenue collection, he said.
A Qatari official did not immediately comment when contacted by Reuters. A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that talks with the Taliban had stopped “some time ago”.
Western officials say there is little direct commercial benefit in operating the airport that poses significant security challenges, but Kabul airport will provide a major source of intelligence on activities in and out of the country.
The UAE talks are part of a quiet but assertive effort by Abu Dhabi to expand longstanding ties with Afghanistan’s rulers, including government aid and diplomatic efforts in the months after the militants came to power.
Western officials say that Abu Dhabi sees Afghanistan as part of its wider backyard, which shares a large land border with the UAE’s Gulf neighbor Iran and therefore believes that the country’s political and economic stability will improve. He has legitimate interests.
Western officials also say the United Arab Emirates is eager to counter Qatar’s influence in Afghanistan, a Gulf state that is lauded by Western nations for serving as a gateway to the Taliban, but has regional influence. Abu Dhabi’s rival in a competition for.
Western officials worry that there is now a rivalry in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, cut ties with Qatar from 2017 to 2021 as part of a long-running, bitter dispute between the two prosperous Gulf nations, which was significantly reduced last year. was resolved to an extent.
Qatar has hosted the Taliban’s political office in Doha, one of the few places to meet militants and where the United States negotiated with militants to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Qatar also helped run Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the collapse of the Western-backed government last August. Its state-owned Qatar Airways operated charter flights and Qatari special forces provided security on the ground.
But Qatar’s ties with the Taliban now appear to be strained, according to Western officials, who say the militants have become wary of relying too heavily on any one nation.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Additional reporting by Orhan Koskun in Ankara; Editing by William Maclean)
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)