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Visit of Taliban Defense Minister to UAE: What does the Taliban Aim?

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The delegation, led by the Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Mohammed Yaqub Mujahid, went to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 4 December 2022. It is known that Anas Haqqani, one of the young leaders of the Haqqani Network, also took part in the delegation. Although Mullah Yaqub is young, he is the son of Mullah Omar, the founding leader of the Taliban and one of the strongest figures of the Taliban.

In a statement issued before the visit, the Taliban Ministry of Defense declared that the purpose of the visit was to improve relations with the Gulf countries, especially the UAE, and to meet with Afghans in the UAE. The Abu Dhabi visit was the second overseas visit of Mullah Yaqoob. It is known that the Taliban Defense Minister had previously been to Qatar.

During the visit, Mullah Yaqoob met with Afghanistan citizens and businessmen. During his meeting with the Afghans, the Minister of Defense of the Taliban stated that Afghanistan’s borders are under control and that no one will be allowed to enter Afghanistan, even for a meter. It was noteworthy that Yaqoob stated that all ethnic groups living in Afghanistan are the people of Afghanistan, that they should unite and participate in Afghanistan’s politics and economy, and that he will work for all ethnic groups to be in government.[1]

Yaqoob also met with UAE officials during his visit. During the meeting between the Emir of the UAE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Yaqoob, it was announced that the development of bilateral relations and regional issues were discussed.[2]

It can be said that Yaqoob’s visit to Abu Dhabi is important for various reasons. First, the Taliban administration attaches importance to the Gulf countries in its foreign policy. The reason for this is that the Gulf states supported the Taliban in the first period and the Taliban had a political office in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

On the other hand, it should be noted that; there is a rivalry between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE regarding the geopolitics of Afghanistan. The Taliban, on the other hand, believe that this competition harms Afghanistan. Through these contacts, it tries to prevent the instability that competition will bring. Therefore, Mullah Yaqoob’s contacts, first in Doha and then in Abu Dhabi, aim to serve a constructive process centered on cooperation.

As it is known, Doha played a critical role in the start of the second Taliban era, as it hosted the political office of the Taliban. The UAE, on the other hand, was among the few states that recognized the Taliban in the 1990s. That’s why Yaqoob said that he respects the interests of the UAE in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, the Taliban showed that they attach importance to relations with Abu Dhabi by giving the transfer of Kabul Airport to the UAE, despite Doha’s request.

It can be argued that the second goal of the visit was the Taliban’s request for support from the UAE in overcoming the recognition problem. As it is known, the Taliban is not officially recognized by any state. This increases the influence of opposition groups against the Taliban. The international community presents the Taliban’s establishing a pluralistic government, respecting human rights, especially women’s rights, and taking a determined stance in the fight against terrorism as a prerequisite for recognition. The UAE, on the other hand, is home to many Taliban opponents, especially President Ashraf Ghani of the deposed Afghan regime and former Balkh Governor Ata Muhammed Nur, one of the leaders of the Afghan Tajiks. During Mullah Yaqoob’s visit, it can be argued that he wanted these people to be encouraged to return to Afghanistan. Because the Taliban believes that they can overcome the recognition problem by showing that the opposition can live in the country in this way.

It can be said that the third step of the visit is to ensure that Afghan businessmen in the UAE invest in the country. Because after the Taliban dominated Afghanistan, it was seen that many wealthy businessmen settled in the UAE. At this point, the Taliban cares about these investors to overcome the economic problems. It is possible to state that Yaqoob, who is known as a nationalist and compliant person among the Taliban, tried to persuade these people during his contacts in Abu Dhabi.

Finally, on Jacob’s visit to Abu Dhabi, it was seen that he met with Tom West, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan.[3] It is also known that West went to Abu Dhabi from New Delhi, that there has been a normalization process in the relations between the Taliban and India recently, and that the Former President of Afghanistan is also in the UAE. This indicates that there is a mediation process for the solution to the Afghan Question. Moreover, it is claimed that Thomas Nicholson, the European Union’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan, is also in Abu Dhabi. It is possible that Yaqoob also met with Nicholson, although this has not yet been confirmed.

As can be understood, Yaqoob’s visit reflects the efforts of the Taliban to repair their relations with the West. Because the Taliban is aware that it cannot overcome the recognition problem without reconciliation with the international community and especially with Western actors. Moreover, it is not only a problem of recognition; in economic terms, for the Taliban, the 40 million dollars that the West regularly sends every week is important for the continuity of the Taliban administration. Because, although humanitarian aid is not enough to solve the problems in Afghanistan’s economy, it gives the country a breath of fresh air. In this sense, the Taliban gave the message that they were open to dialogue with the West on Yaqoob’s visit to Abu Dhabi.

As a result, the Taliban showed that they wanted to establish a balance between the Gulf countries through Yaqoob’s visit to Abu Dhabi, showed that they wanted to improve their relations with the UAE as in the 1990s, and showed their will to improve their relations with the West. For this reason, it is possible to state that the Taliban are trying to establish relations with the USA and its allies through the Gulf and thus overcome the recognition problem.


[1] “دیدار محمد بن زاید و وزیر دفاع طالبان در ابوظبی”, ISNA, https://l24.im/oKstipM, (Date of Accession: 06.12.2022).

[2] “ملا محمد یعقوب و شیخ محمد بین زیاد آل نهیان دیدار کردند”, Sputnik, https://l24.im/8RPgDaq, (Date of Accession: 06.12.2022).

[3] “ملا یعقوب در دیدار با توماس وِست: جهان به تمامیت ارضی افغانستان احترام بگذارد”, Etilaatrooz, shorturl.at/guvA6, (Date of Accession: 07.12.2022).

Ahmad Khan DAWLATYAR
Ahmad Khan DAWLATYAR
Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar graduated from Kunduz University, Department of Law and Political Science in 2013. He received his master's degree from Ankara University, Institute of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science in 2019 with his thesis titled "A Comparative Analysis on the Principle of Separation of Powers in the Constitutions of the Republic of Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan". Participating in various scientific events, Dawlatyar has presented papers and articles on the Afghanistan problem. In this context, his presentation titled "Religious and Ideological Causes of the Afghanistan Problem" was published. He is currently continuing his doctoral studies at Ankara University, Institute of Social Sciences, Department of International Relations. Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar, who contributes to the studies carried out within ANKASAM, mainly works in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dawlatyar is fluent in Farsi, Uzbek, Turkish and Pashto. He also has an intermediate level of English.