Taliban to sign pact with UAE on running Afghan airports

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The Taliban will sign an agreement with the United Arab Emirates on operating airports in Afghanistan, the group’s acting deputy prime minister said on Tuesday, after months of talks with the UAE, Turkey and Qatar.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar made the announcement in a tweet and later told reporters in Kabul that his administration was renewing an airport ground handling agreement with the UAE.

It was not immediately clear whether the agreement went beyond existing arrangements or if it included airport security, a sensitive issue for the Taliban who fought for decades against US-led Nato troops and say they do not want the return of international forces.

The UAE’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A source briefed on the negotiations told Reuters that a sticking point in the negotiations with Qatar has been Doha’s condition that Qatari security personnel be present at the airport.

Qatar and Turkey had already sent temporary technical teams to help airport operations and security after the Taliban took over in August last year as foreign forces withdrew.

The airport talks have demonstrated how countries are seeking to assert their influence in Afghanistan even as the hardline group largely remains an international pariah and its government not formally recognised by any country.

The Emiratis are keen to counter diplomatic clout enjoyed there by Qatar, sources told Reuters last year as talks began.

Qatar and the UAE have had strained relations for years as they compete for regional influence.