Negotiations between the Taliban and a Qatar-Turkey consortium for operating Afghanistan’s five airports, including in the capital, have hit a deadlock after Taliban insisted their fighters will guard the facilities, officials said.
Kabul’s only airport was trashed in August when tens of thousands of people rushed to evacuate on any available flight as the United States wrapped up its withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.
While the facility is open, with some domestic and international flights operating, it still needs a significant upgrade for major foreign airlines to resume full service.
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This week Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi held two lengthy meetings with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdurrahman al-Thani in Doha in a bid to reach a deal, officials from the two sides said.
But the talks, which also include rebuilding airports in Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-4-Sharif and Khost, have hit a deadlock.
“The contract for Kabul airport with Qatar-Turkey consortium is only for receiving technical support,” a Taliban official said, requesting not to be named.
“Our people will protect the airport. The presence of foreign troops or security experts on our soil is not acceptable to Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
A Doha-based diplomat briefed on the talks said the Taliban had been “very demanding” when it came to security-related issues at Kabul airport.
Qatar and Turkey want a say in managing security at Kabul airport as they “don’t trust the Taliban,” said an expert tracking the negotiations, who asked not to be named.
“Neither are willing to risk their aircraft and crew in exchange for a Taliban promise for their safety and security,” he said.
Afghanistan's foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi tweeted that the two sides have “identified issues related to the contract that needed further discussions.”
The full operation of Kabul airport is crucial for reviving Afghanistan’s shattered economy.
It is currently operated by the Afghan Civil Aviation Ministry, backed by experts from Qatar who arrived soon after the US withdrawal.
A United Arab Emirates-based company is engaged in ground handling services at the facility.
Currently, two Afghan airlines - Kam Air and Ariana Afghan - fly to Dubai, Doha, Islamabad, and Tehran from Kabul airport.
Iran’s Mahan Air also operates flights to Kabul.