Turkey, Taliban close to deal on Kabul airport

Draft agreement says Ankara will recognise Taliban government in Kabul


News Desk August 28, 2021
Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport to flee the country as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war. PHOTO: AFP

Turkey and Qatar will jointly operate the Kabul international airport, with Ankara providing security through a private firm, according to a draft deal with the Afghan Taliban, the Middle East Eye (MEE) reported on Saturday, citing two sources familiar with the issue.

The MEE report said that the draft deal would be finalised after completion of the US troop withdrawal from the airport by the next week. It added that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would give the final approval of the deal.

Erdogan, the MEE said, was expected to hold consultations with his Nato allies, mainly the US. According to the main points of the draft agreement, the report said, Turkey will recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Moreover, Turkey and Qatar will operate the airport in a consortium and Ankara providing security through a private firm, whose staff will consist of former Turkish soldiers and police. Turkish special forces, operating in plainclothes, will secure the technical staff but cannot leave the airport perimeter.

One the outstanding issue in the way of the deal is that the former Afghan government had already awarded a contract for the airport last October to a United Arab Emirates-based consortium. The MEE said that the Taliban would need to cut a separate deal with them.

Turkey, which is part of the Nato mission, has been responsible for security at the airport for the last six years. Recently, the Taliban asked Turkey for technical help to run the airport after the pullout of the foreign troops by Tuesday.

An official had told Reuters on Friday that Turkey would not help run the airport unless the Taliban agree to a Turkish security presence. Meanwhile, Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel reported that the Taliban would ask Qatar for technical assistance in operating the airport.

On Friday, Erdogan confirmed that Turkey had held its first talks with the Taliban in Kabul in connection with running the airport. He added that the talks, spanning over three and half hours, were held at a military section of the Kabul airport, where the Turkish embassy was temporarily stationed.

Erdogan said that the Taliban now wanted to oversee security at the airport while offering Ankara the option of running its logistics. “They said: ‘We will ensure the security, you operate (airport)’,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.

Also read: Turkey won't help at Kabul airport without its own security: officials

Next week, on September 1, Hamid Karzai International Airport will be under the control of the Taliban, who already moved on Friday into certain areas of the military side of the facility. The Taliban want the facility to stay open to see humanitarian aid quickly flow into the country.

At the same time, the airport is also important for Western countries, who want to be able to get their citizens out of Afghanistan, as well as thousands of Afghan allies, who could not be evacuated in the US-led airlift before August 31.

“We are departing by August 31. Upon that date, we are delivering—we’re essentially giving the airport back to the Afghan people,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday, cutting off speculation about the possibility of it falling into international hands.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said this week that there had been “very active efforts” by countries in the region to see whether they could help keep the airport open “or, as necessary, reopening it if it closes for some period of time.”

Erdogan said that his country was still assessing the situation. He warned that the suicide attack on Thursday at the gates of the airport showed how complex the mission was. “We will make a decision once calm prevails.”

Beyond the security concerns is another issue. The airport is in a bad state, US officials have said, adding that apart from the US army, there were few entities in the world capable of taking charge of it from one day to the next.

US and Western experts on air traffic have just completed an evaluation of the airport in a bid to assess if commercial flights could resume quickly, Price said. Other officials warned there would not be many airlines, agreeing to fly into Kabul unless improved security and the infrastructure were in working order.

(WITH INPUT FROM AGENCIES)

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