UAE and Saudi Arabia 'vied to host the Taliban'
Saudi Arabia and the UAE attempted to host the Taliban before the hard-line militant group set up an office in Qatar, a former fighter turned mediator has said.
Abdullah Anas, a one-time acquaintance of slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, told the Middle East Eye that the initiative to set up an office for the Taliban first began in Saudi Arabia.
Anas, who visited Saudi Arabia between 2006 and 2008 to urge peace talks between rival Afghan factions, said he was "bewildered" when Riyadh used the Taliban office in Doha as evidence of Qatar's alleged support for terrorism.
"There were also some rounds [of meetings] in the Emirates. So if Qatar is accused of hosting terrorists, someone hosted the same 'terrorists' before this," he said.
The former Afghan fighter says that during his time in the kingdom, he met with the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, on a number of occasion and helped organise the 2008 peace talks in Medina.
Despite Riyadh hoping to host the Taliban's office, the group eventually chose Qatar, reportedly because of its neutrality in the Afghan conflict.
The decision was much to the disappointment of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Recently leaked emails have revealed how Emirati diplomats lobbied US officials in an attempt to have the Taliban office established in Abu Dhabi.
According to a New York Times report from July, UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, received an "angry call" from UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan after the Taliban chose Qatar to host the office in 2011.
Otaiba has been a prominent critic of Qatar during the recent Gulf crisis, accusing the state of supporting terrorism through an alleged alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and by its opening of an office for Hamas in Doha.
This is despite the office for the Gaza-based Palestinian group being opened with Washington's approval.
Qatar has vehemently denied the charges levelled against it by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE and says it agreed to open the now-defunct Taliban office as part of a broader US-led effort to facilitate Afghan peace talks.