GCC Member States: Important Players in Afghanistan

GCC Head Of States
Credit: GCC official website

GCC countries have been trying to enhance their strategic influence in recent years. While in terms of economic progress all Gulf countries have made remarkable progress in the past few decades — for long Saudi Arabia was ahead of other member states as far as diplomatic outreach and clout was concerned. 

In the recent past owing to a number of economic and geopolitical factors other GCC countries have begun to emerge out of the shadows of the Saudis. One of the strong examples of this, is the signing of the Abraham Accords, facilitated by the US, through which relations between two GCC Countries — United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, and Israel were normalized (ever since the signing of Abraham accords, apart from diplomatic linkages, the economic ties between both UAE and Israel have got a significant boost). Two Non GCC States, Sudan and Morocco also normalized ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords.

It is not just UAE, other GCC countries including Saudi Arabia, too have been working towards normalization of ties with Israel. While Israel-Saudi Arabia ties have improved in recent times, the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud hinted earlier this month that Saudi Arabia is unlikely to join the Abraham Accords until the Palestinian-Israel conflict is resolved.  The GCC countries are also likely to play an important role in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. 

If one were to look at the instance of Qatar, it has been hosting an overseas office for the Taliban since 2013, and Doha has been the venue for the intra-Afghan Peace Talks between the erstwhile Afghan Government and the Taliban. Qatar has emerged as an important player in the Afghan Peace Process. In fact, Qatar’s ties with the Taliban have also caused strains in ties with other Arab Countries. In 2017, three GCC Countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab EmiratesBahrain and Egypt snapped diplomatic ties with Doha due to its links with the Taliban. 

After last week’s events while it is true that China and Russia will play an important role, Qatar’s role is likely to be critical due to its role in the peace talks. It would be important to point out that Qatar has also helped in evacuation of 7,000 people from Afghanistan (Doha has also assisted in the evacuation of nationals belonging to the UK, US and Germany).

Role of UAE

It is not just Qatar, even UAE a strong ally of the US is likely to be extremely relevant. Significantly, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who fled Afghanistan was not allowed to land in Tajikistan and has been given exile in the UAE. More importantly, the United Arab Emirates has agreed to host 5000 Afghan nationals evacuated from Afghanistan on their way to third countries. 

Role of OIC 

The Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which has its head office in Riyadh has said that it would send envoys to Afghanistan to emphasize the importance of peace, stability and reconciliation. It has also asked the Afghan leadership and the global community to ensure that Afghanistan is not used as a platform or haven for terrorists. 

The role of GCC countries in Afghanistan would be closely watched by other countries especially India. New Delhi’s ties have improved in recent years with GCC, and are no longer restricted to import of oil from the Gulf or issues related to the Indian diaspora settled there, but have deepened in the strategic sphere.

Qatari special envoy for conflict resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani also visited India in early August, and during this visit India put forward its concerns with regard to the situation in Afghanistan.

New Delhi will ultimately need to engage with the Taliban, and other countries which have links with it will play an important role in the same. While Iran has already spoken in favor of a more important role for India in Afghanistan, GCC countries and India will need to find common ground in Afghanistan. 

The role of GCC countries and organizations like OIC will be crucial in Afghanistan apart from Beijing, Moscow and Tehran. New Delhi needs to adopt a flexible approach vis-à-vis the new regime in Kabul. India also needs to find synergies with Middle Eastern countries, especially Iran and Qatar, which have strong links with the Taliban. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.