Aug 18, 2021 - World

Gulf states wary of U.S. withdrawal and ensuing chaos

Mohammed bin Zayed

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed. Photo: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

DUBAI -- The scenes of panic at Kabul airport have been uncomfortable to watch for many people in the Gulf.

Why it matters: Governments in the region, particularly the UAE, have supported NATO’s mission and provided Afghanistan with aid, building up ties with successive governments in Kabul over the years since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

  • Now Gulf countries are concerned about the possible implications of the renewed instability in Afghanistan — refugee flows, a humanitarian crisis and a potential renewal of civil war — for the security of the wider region.
  • There are also concerns that terror groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda could again flourish in the resulting chaos.

America's status as a steadfast ally for Gulf governments is now also under more scrutiny than before.

  • Biden’s speech on Monday night, in which he argued that the U.S. should move on from Afghanistan to focus on more pressing national security concerns like China, cast some doubt on his administration’s appetite for a continuing role in the Middle East.

State of play: The Gulf Cooperation Council, chaired by Bahrain, said it would discuss the situation in Afghanistan, which has developed at a dizzying speed.

  • The bloc, which also includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, has yet to respond as a group, but members have made individual statements.

What they're saying: The UAE on Tuesday stressed the need for all parties in Afghanistan to urgently achieve stability, while diplomatic adviser Anwar Gargash welcomed the "encouraging" remarks from Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid on "amnesty and tolerance over revenge, as well as his promise to honor the rights of women to education and work."

  • Qatar, which has hosted a series of negotiations as well as the Taliban leadership, called for a ceasefire and “a comprehensive solution."
  • Saudi Arabia said it backed the choices made by the Afghan people “without interference,” and Kuwait urged all to exercise “maximum restraint."
  • Ahmed bin Hamad Al Khalili, the grand mufti of Oman, has congratulated the people of Afghanistan on their “victory."

What’s next: Gulf countries are concerned that the Afghanistan situation could be replicated in Iraq following the agreement made in July between President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to end the U.S. combat mission in the country by the end of this year.

  • While U.S. forces will remain in an advisory capacity, the prospect of another vacuum will have many nervous across the region.

Driving the news: The UAE announced on Wednesday that it had welcomed former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on "humanitarian grounds."

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