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The Afghanistan Conundrum: Where does the Gulf Stand?

Featured Speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator), Ambassador Javid Ahmad, Dr. Iulia-Sabina Joja, Obaidullah Baheer, and Dr. Samuel Ramani.


The recent collapse of the Afghan government and the rise of the Taliban to power in Kabul has created a new challenge for the Gulf states. For the last four decades, Afghanistan has played a crucial role in Gulf security and factored into their relations (or rivalry) with the United States. Regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Qatar, have long involved in Afghanistan since the 1970s. Now, the rise of radicals to power in Kabul and the debacle of the American departure have provoked concerns about the region’s security and the spillover of instability into Gulf countries. Increasingly widespread evidence that the Taliban maintains ties to al-Qaeda and has not moderated its behavior only adds to Gulf leaders’ anxiety.

While Iran’s history and geography make the rise of the Taliban to power especially worrisome to the country’s leadership, Tehran has shown flexibility in dealing with the group in recent years, perhaps anticipating a Taliban victory. For their part, each of the GCC states has maintained different policies, interests, and levels of contact with the group. Doha hosted a Taliban representation office for over a decade based on the US request to facilitate the talks between Washington and the group. Now the Qataris are leveraging their years of interaction with the Taliban to facilitate communication between the Taliban and many Western states. On the other hand, the UAE and Saudi Arabia kept only irregular communications with the Taliban, preferring stronger relations with the Afghan government; they now find themselves at a disadvantage after the collapse of the Ghani government. Both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh must now scramble to establish relationships with the new power in Kabul.

How do we expect the Taliban government to interact with the Gulf states, as well as the rest of Afghanistan’s neighborhood? Which Gulf states will feel the greatest impact of the Taliban victory? Will Gulf states use Afghanistan as a battlefield for their rivalry as they have in other countries on their doorsteps? How will the developing situation in Afghanistan affect US interests and its future presence in the Gulf?

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