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Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan

Published Date: August 12, 2017

 

Since two weeks, Saudi Arabia has commented on Afghanistan twice. First, while condemning the attack on the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul, Riyadh vowed to cooperate with the Afghan government to eliminate “terrorism”. [1] Later the Saudi Charge d’affairs in Afghanistan Mishari al-Harbi said during an interview with the BBC that the Taliban is a “terrorist” group [2]  and accused Qatar of supporting the group. He said, “The government of Qatar has embraced the leaders of some of the terrorist groups and backs terrorist groups in Afghanistan.” [3]

The Saudi anti-Taliban remark is unprecedented in the past two decades. Nevertheless, such remarks, meetings with the Afghan government and the trip of the Qatari Non-resident Ambassador to Afghanistan indicate that the roots of the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf have extended to Afghanistan as well.

On the other hand, in response to the Saudi Charge d’affair’s remarks, the Taliban stated that their Qatar political office was open with a motive to resolve the Afghan issue. The Taliban called on Saudi to play a “positive” role in Afghanistan. [4]

What is Saudi Arabia’s role in Afghanistan? When did differences between the Taliban and Saudi Arabia emerge? And what can Saudi Arabia do in the Afghan peace process? These and other similar questions are analyzed here.

 

Saudi’s role in the Afghan issue

Historically, due to the existence of the Holy Mosques and places in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan has had warm relations with this country. However, the close ties between the two countries, began when Dauod Khan became the Afghan Prime Minister. At that time Dauod Khan wanted to distance himself from the Soviet Union’s allies and eliminate reliance on the Soviet Union. Therefore, he traveled to Saudi Arabia and achieved some aid from this country as well. Nonetheless, after the Saur communist coup d’état and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, relations between Kabul and Riyadh deteriorated.

After the Saur communist coup d’état until the formation of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia helped the Afghan Mujahedin and the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, instead of the Afghan government. During the Afghan Jihad, the Mujahedin and the Afghan refugees vastly relied on the financial and human support of Saudi Arabia.

When the Taliban captured Kabul, Saudi Arabia recognized the Taliban regime, becoming the third country after Pakistan and United Arab Emirates (UAE) to recognize the Taliban government. After the collapse of the Taliban regime, Saudi Arabia supported the new Afghan government. In 2002, Saudi Arabia promised $220 in aid to Afghanistan in Tokyo Conference. Saudi provided financial grants to the Afghan government for several times; however, Saudis aids to Afghanistan were far less compared to that of other countries.

Between 1978 and 2001, Saudi Arabia was a key player in the Afghan issue and, to a greater extent” had played an active role in the Afghan peace process. Due to its aids to the Afghan Mujahedin and refugees during the Jihad, Saudi gained some influence over the Afghan Mujahedin. And since the two holy mosques of Muslims are in this country, most of the Muslims honor Saudi Arabia. That is why the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai traveled to Saudi Arabia  several times during his tenure and requested Riyadh to play a constructive role in the Afghan peace process. However, these efforts failed, and Saudi Arabia could not play the role it had played during the Afghan Jihad.

 

The political differences between the Taliban and Saudi Arabia

The first political dispute between the Taliban and Saudi emerged when, in 1998, Osama Bin Laden was accused of blasting some US embassies in the Northern Africa. At that time, the Saudi chief spy traveled to Afghanistan and met the leader of Taliban Mullah Mohammad Omar in Kandahar. According to some books, the meeting did not go well , and a verbal dispute occurred between the two.

After 2001, Saudi Arabia backed the Afghan government. Hence, in 2009, the Taliban diplomat Sayed Tayyib Agha demanded from Saudi Arabia to host them, but Riyadh put two preconditions: first, cutting links with Al-Qaeda. Second, the recognition of the Afghan constitution. However, the Taliban did not accept these preconditions and termed  these conditions by Saudi Arabia as its denial for hosting them.

Later, the increased relations between the Taliban and Iran and Qatar also impacted the ties between the Taliban and Riyadh. That is why now, Riyadh is opposing with the Taliban’s political office in Qatar and, at low-level, considers the Taliban as a “terrorist” group.

 

Afghanistan and the Gulf Diplomatic Crisis

The political crisis emerged in June 2017 when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut their diplomatic ties with Qatar one after another within ten minutes. In the meanwhile, these countries also tried to geographically and economically marginalize Qatar. Apparently, the reason behind the crisis was the fact that some Gulf countries accused Qatar of supporting “terrorist” groups. [5]

Clarifying the Saudi policy towards Afghanistan, the Saudi Charge d’affairs said last week that Saudi Arabia sees the Taliban as a terrorist group and also expressed concern about the Taliban’s relations with Qatar. Saudis opposed the Taliban’s office in Qatar because they believe it is a source of support to the Taliban and through this office the Taliban contact other countries and get aid and support.

Such remarks on behalf of Saudi Arabia come at a time that Qatar’s non-resident Ambassador to Afghanistan “Safar bin Mubarak al-Mansouri” traveled to Kabul several weeks ago and met the acting Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs. Although, the statement of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not say much about the meeting, according to a source, Qatar has asked for Afghanistan’s support in the Gulf crisis. According to the source, the Afghan government has repeated the same demands the Afghan president had made during his meeting with the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs several months earlier. At that time, besides the closure of the Taliban’s office, the Afghan President had demanded from Qatar to cut the financial resources of the Taliban as well as stop the activities of the Pugwash, an international organization that works for issue such as peace. [6] One and half month earlier, the Egyptian Ambassador to Afghanistan and the Saudi Charge d’affairs had met Hamid Karzai asking for his support in the Gulf crisis. [7] Hence, the roots of the crisis in the Gulf have now reached Afghanistan.

On the one hand, if the Taliban are not ready for the talks, the Afghan government wants to ban the group’s diplomatic efforts by closing its office in Qatar. On the other hand, the NUG has strong relations with the Saudi Arabia more than any time in the history and; therefore, it may not want to be get involved in the Gulf crisis. However, the Afghan government will have to choose one between the two.

 

What can Saudi do in the Afghan peace process?

Since the past several decades, Kabul has always looked at Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to resolve the Afghan case. That is why first Karzai and then Ashraf Ghani demanded Saudi’s cooperation to end the war in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Saudi still influences the Taliban. That is why when Saudi called the Taliban a “terrorist” group, the group said nothing in their statement in this regard except some clarification about Qatar’s Office and the request from Saudi to play a “positive” role in Afghanistan.

Now there is a good opportunity for  Saudi Arabia to mediate between the Afghan government and the Taliban by using its spiritual and religious credibility because both the Afghan government and the Taliban trust Saudi and this country’s soft power can have positive effects. In addition, compared to Obama’s administration, Trump has better relations with Saudi Arabia which can have a positive role in the Afghan peace process.

The end

[1] Pajhwok, Riyandh Vows to Help Kabul Combat Terror, 1st Aug 2017, see it online:

https://www.pajhwok.com/en/2017/08/01/riyadh-vows-help-kabul-combat-terror

[2] BBC Pashto, مشاري بن مزعل الحربي: طالبان ترهګر دي [Meshari al-Harbi: the Taliban are “terrorists”], 7 Aug 2017, read it here:

http://www.bbc.com/pashto/40849153

[3] Pajhwok, سعودي: قطر د طالبانو په ګډون د ترهګرو ډلو ملاتړ کوي [Saudi: Qatar backs the terrorist groups including the Taliban, 7 Aug 2017, see it here:

https://www.pajhwok.com/ps/2017/08/07/%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%8A-%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%B1-%D8%AF-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%88-%D9%BE%D9%87-%DA%AB%DA%89%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%AF-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%87%DA%AB%D8%B1%D9%88-%DA%89%D9%84%D9%88-%D9%85%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA%DA%93-%DA%A9%D9%88%D9%8A

[4] The Taliban’s statement in response to the remarks of the Saudi Charge d’affairs, 7 Aug 2017, read it here:

http://alemara1.net/?p=48032

http://alemarah-dari.com/?p=61275

[5]  CSRS, د منځني ختيځ نوی ډيپلوماتیک بحران او پر سیمه یې اغېزې [the diplomatic crisis in the Middle East and its impacts on the region], 17 Jun 2017, read it here:

http://csrskabul.com/en/blog/new-diplomatic-crisis-middle-east-impacts-region/

پښتو: http://csrskabul.com/pa/?p=3628

[6] Pajhwok, سعودي: قطر د طالبانو په ګډون د ترهګرو ډلو ملاتړ کوي [Saudi: Qatar backs the terrorist groups including the Taliban], 7 Aug 2017, see it here:

https://www.pajhwok.com/ps/2017/08/07/%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%8A-%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%B1-%D8%AF-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%88-%D9%BE%D9%87-%DA%AB%DA%89%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%AF-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%87%DA%AB%D8%B1%D9%88-%DA%89%D9%84%D9%88-%D9%85%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA%DA%93-%DA%A9%D9%88%D9%8A

[7] Naraynews, سعودي او مصر د خلیج وروستي کړکېچ کې د حامد کرزي ملاتړ غوښتی [Saudi Arabia and Egypt have demanded Hamid Karzai’s support in the Gulf crisis], 18 Jun 2017, read it here

http://naraynews.com/?p=8379

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