Last Updated: February 12, 2024, 12:32 IST
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attends Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November, 11, 2023. (Reuters File Photo)
Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar plays a significant role in global diplomacy, mediating conflicts in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Israel-Hamas war
Ever since assuming power in 2013, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar has played a central role in navigating geopolitical challenges worldwide. Despite governing a small Arab state, the 43-year-old Qatari Emir has actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to mediate solutions to complex crises.
Qatar, a major LNG producer, boasts significant wealth despite its small population of three million. Recognised as a major non-NATO US ally, it wields significant influence under Hamad Al Thani’s leadership. Flush with gas wealth, Qatar has been mediating conflicts globally, including in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Israel.
For years, Qatar has openly provided a base for political leaders of Hamas. Doha also maintained ties with Tel Aviv, cooperating with the country to provide aid to Gaza. In the past, the small Arab nation has also been key to negotiating cease-fires between Israel and Hamas that have restored calm for brief intervals. Ever since the start of the latest Israel-Palestine conflict, the tiny Gulf state has played a key role in mediation talks with Hamas and Israeli officials and the release of hostages taken to Gaza during the deadly cross-border attack.
US President Joe Biden has regularly spoken with the emir of Qatar since October 7 on securing the release of Israeli hostages and boosting aid to Gaza. In December, Emir Al Thani said that Qatar is pressing for a comprehensive end to the war in Gaza and is working to repair a collapsed truce agreement between Israel and Hamas. “We are constantly working to renew (the truce) and to alleviate the burden of our people in the Gaza Strip, but truces are not an alternative for a comprehensive ceasefire,” he said in a speech to Gulf leaders gathered in the Qatari capital Doha.
When the Ukraine conflict broke out in February 2022, Qatar sought a largely neutral stance on the conflict. At the same time, it signalled through its response that it could offer significant political and economic assistance to Western partners. Balancing foreign policy in times of conflict, Doha in the past two years has carefully navigated the geopolitical fallout from Ukraine and worked to position itself as a state on good terms with all NATO members, Ukraine, and Russia.
By maintaining channels of communication with Kyiv and Moscow, while using its financial resources to strengthen its relationships with both Ukraine and Russia, Doha is pursuing a sound and balanced foreign policy without being pressured into antagonising anyone. Qatar, like its five fellow Gulf states, has voted at the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia’s “annexation of land” in eastern Ukraine. However, Doha has not implemented any of the West’s economic sanctions on Moscow.
US-Taliban Deal on Afghanistan
Qatar’s central role has been to host Afghan peace talks that led to the 2020 agreement with the Taliban for the US withdrawal. After the radical Islamic group opened a political office in Doha in 2013, the Taliban made their home in the stylish capital of Doha. Qatar’s Islamist leanings and close ties with the group ultimately proved vital as Doha played host to American diplomats and Taliban officials seeking to end America’s longest war that cost billions of dollars.
Following Washington’s chaotic airlift out of Kabul in 2021, Qatar stepped up and received nearly half of all Afghan and American evacuees. At present, Qatar has a key role as an interlocutor between the Taliban and the West on issues including the formation of an inclusive government and addressing human rights challenges.
Qatar, situated across the Persian Gulf from Iran and sharing a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran, maintains crucial diplomatic ties with Iran. Hosting indirect talks between Iran and the US over the nuclear deal, Qatar’s high-level connections facilitate telephone conversations amid negotiations. Al Jazeera provides extensive coverage of Iran. Additionally, Qatar strengthens its military and hosts the US military’s Central Command headquarters. Qatar’s mediation efforts led to the release of Americans in late 2023 through prisoner swaps with Venezuela and Iran.