11/13/2021, 15.29
AFGHANISTAN
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Qatar to represent US interests in Kabul

The United States and Qatar have signed an agreement to formally recognise the emirate's role vis-à-vis the Taliban. This will allow further evacuations of at-risk Afghans, and offer a channel for humanitarian aid to a country on its knees. UNICEF official warns that the situation is such that some families are “offering daughters as young as 20 days old”.

Washington (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United States and Qatar signed an agreement yesterday in Washington whereby the Gulf country will represent US diplomatic interests in Afghanistan.

This follows the closure of the US embassy in Kabul last August at the time of the takeover by the Taliban.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed for the United States and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani signed for Qatar.

Under the agreement, which comes into effect on 31 December, Qatar will set up a US Interests Section in its embassy to provide some consular services and monitor the condition and security of US diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan.

The agreement ratifies a de facto situation. Qatar, home to the largest US military base in the Middle East, also hosts the Taliban’s office, with which the United States negotiated the withdrawal of its troops after 20 years.

Qatar was also the main transit point for the airlift that took thousands of Afghans at risk out of the country.

Some 124,000 passed through the emirate in August, but Qatar Airways carried out at least 15 other evacuation flights in the following months, allowing Afghans who worked with the US troops to leave Kabul.

About 8,000 Afghans are still in Qatar waiting for their visa application to be vetted by the United States, while thousands more are still at risk in Afghanistan.

With Qatar representing US interests in Afghanistan, the United States and its Western allies will be able to remain in contact with the Taliban without political recognition of their government.

This will be very important especially now that the country’s humanitarian and food crises are getting worse just before the onset of winter.

At present, Afghanistan needs international aid, also because the war and the political earthquake created by the return to power of the Taliban have been compounded by the consequences of a severe drought, which hit the country in the last two years.

One of the consequences is the increase in child marriage. In view of the situation, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore issued an appeal yesterday.

“I am deeply concerned by reports that child marriage in Afghanistan is on the rise,” reads her message. “We have received credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry,” she added.

Even before the recent political instability, UNICEF partners had recorded 183 child marriages and 10 cases of child sales, ranging in age between six months and 17 years, in 2018 and 2019 in the provinces of Herat and Baghdis alone.

But now, Fore writes, “The extremely dire economic situation in Afghanistan is pushing more families deeper into poverty and forcing them to make desperate choices, such as putting children to work and marrying girls off at a young age.”

In fact, “As most teenage girls are still not allowed to go back to school, the risk of child marriage is now even higher.”

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