HomeWorld NewsEXCLUSIVE UAE set to manage Kabul airport under Taliban deal, sources say

EXCLUSIVE UAE set to manage Kabul airport under Taliban deal, sources say

Members of the Taliban stand on the runway at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 9, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY./File Photo

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  • UAE set to beat Qatar-Turkey joint bid
  • Taliban officials visited Abu Dhabi in May
  • Kabul Airport is Afghanistan’s main air link

DUBAI, July 7 (Reuters) – The Taliban and the United Arab Emirates are set to strike a deal for the Gulf country to manage Kabul airport and several others in Afghanistan, which could be announced within weeks , according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

The Taliban, whose government remains an international pariah without formal recognition, has courted regional powers including Qatar and Turkey to operate Kabul airport, landlocked Afghanistan’s main air link to the world, and d ‘others.

But after months of back and forth, and at one point raising the possibility of a joint UAE-Turkey-Qatar deal, the Taliban are about to hand over the entire operation to the UAE, which previously managed the Afghan airports, the sources said.

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A deal would help Islamist militants reduce their isolation from the outside world as they govern an impoverished country plagued by drought, widespread hunger and economic crisis. It would also give Abu Dhabi a victory in its diplomatic struggle with Qatar for influence.

As part of the deal with the UAE, Afghans will be employed at airports, including in security roles, crucial for the Taliban who want to show they can create jobs but also because they oppose fiercely to the presence of foreign forces, sources said.

A contractor linked to the Emirati state has been contracted to provide security services, which is expected to be announced soon, while airspace management negotiations are ongoing, they said.

In May, activists awarded the ground services contract to the UAE-linked GAAC, which was involved in running security and ground handling services at Afghan airports before the takeover of the Taliban, shortly after the visit of Taliban officials to Abu Dhabi.


Meanwhile, joint Qatari and Turkish negotiations with the Taliban broke down around the same time, sources said.

Emirati officials had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. The GAAC did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for the Taliban Transport Ministry confirmed that an air security contract had already been signed with the United Arab Emirates, but said the air traffic contract was not yet finalized or confirmed.

There are few direct commercial benefits in airport operations, but Kabul airport would provide a key source of intelligence on movements in and out of the country, Western officials say.

The sources said UAE airlines, which have not flown to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover last year, are expected to resume flights to Kabul and possibly other Afghan airports after the finalization of the agreement.

Other airlines, which also stayed away, could also operate flights again if the UAE deal can address significant security concerns, including the threat posed by the Afghan branch of the Islamic State whose targets include the Taliban.

In the months leading up to the awarding of ground services to the UAE, the Taliban repeatedly made unexplained changes to their negotiating team with Qatar and Turkey, the sources said.

Then the Taliban sought to alter the agreed terms by increasing airport fees and taxes and weakening Qatar’s and Turkey’s control over revenue collection, they added.

A Qatari official had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed talks with the Taliban broke down “some time ago”.

The UAE’s efforts are part of a quiet but assertive push by Abu Dhabi to expand longstanding ties with the Taliban, which have included government aid and diplomatic efforts in the months since the arrival. in power of extremist militants in August.


Western officials say Abu Dhabi views Afghanistan, which shares a large land border with the UAE’s Gulf neighbor Iran, as part of its wider backyard and therefore believes it has legitimate interests in the political and economic stability of the country.

But these officials also say the United Arab Emirates wants to counter the influence in Afghanistan of Qatar, a Gulf state hailed by Western countries for serving as a gateway to the Taliban, but a rival to Abu Dhabi in a competition of regional influence. Read more

Western officials fear the rivalry is now playing out in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, severed ties with Qatar from 2017 to 2021 amid a bitter and longstanding dispute between the two wealthy Gulf states that has was largely resolved last year.

Qatar hosted the Taliban’s political office in Doha, long one of the few places to meet the militants and where the United States negotiated with the militants to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Qatar also helped run Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the collapse of the Western-backed government last year. His state-owned Qatar Airways operated charter flights, and Qatari special forces provided ground security.

But Qatar’s relations with the Taliban now appear strained, according to Western officials who say the militants are wary of being too dependent on one nation.

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Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Mohammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul; Editing by William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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