LONDON (Dispatches) --Saudi Arabia tried to host a liaison office for the Taliban, a former militant who was key to creating the peace process in Afghanistan has told Middle East Eye.
Abdullah Anas also said he is bewildered by claims from the UAE and its allies in Riyadh that Qatar supports extremism by hosting the Taliban in Doha.
On July 26, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the U.S., said: "I don’t think it is a coincidence that inside Doha you have the Hamas leadership, you have a Taliban embassy, you have the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.”
The comments come as part of the long-standing criticism of Qatar, which has been led by Persian Gulf capitals including Riyadh.
But Abdullah Anas told MEE: "If Qatar is hosting the Taliban for talks aimed at reconciling the warring factions in Afghanistan, this initiative was established in Saudi Arabia before.
"There were also some rounds in the Emirates. So if Qatar is accused of hosting terrorists, someone hosted the same ‘terrorists’ before this.”
Anas should know. It was his idea to start the process with a series of visits he made to Afghanistan and then to Saudi Arabia from 2006 to 2008.
During that time he engaged the active support and cooperation not only of Hamid Karzai, then president of Afghanistan, but also Prince Muqrin, then head of Saudi intelligence and, eventually, the late King Abdullah.
The former militant turned Afghan mediator had more than one meeting with the head of Saudi intelligence.
Anas said: "I found myself face to face with the head of intelligence of Saudi, Prince Muqrin (director general of al Mukhabarat al a’amah). He said to me: ‘I heard something of your opinion that Afghanistan is going nowhere, suffering from a meaningless war. Can you update me? I want to hear from you.’
"For me it was a golden opportunity to explain to a decision-maker. So we had more than one meeting in May, June, July 2007.”
Anas’s peace mission started in 2006. An Algerian, he left Afghanistan in 1993, having spent 10 years fighting the Soviet army.
His father-in-law, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, co-founded the Afghan Services Bureau (the Maktab al-Khidamat or MAK) along with Osama bin Laden . The MAK raised funds for, and recruited, foreign fighters for the war against the Soviets.
Anas revealed that 15 hours before his assassination years earlier in November 1989, Azzam was trying to persuade the leaders of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, to sign a unity agreement.
"That is how I found myself knocking on the doors of the Saudis,” he said of his first visit in May 2007.
Anas started with Saudi veterans from the Afghan war who he knew. One of them recommended a lawyer, Mansour Saleh Khnaizan, to whom Anas began to explain his mission.
Anas then took Khnaizan to Afghanistan and introduced him to his contacts. Khnaizan became convinced that a peace deal was possible and reported back to the royal palace in Riyadh.
Months later Anas got a call to return to Riyadh. Khnaizan told him, Anas said, that he had good news: "The king has approved these peace talks to be launched. You have full authority to invite the list of people you have in your mind from Afghanistan.”
But there was one condition: the Afghan leaders were to be invited to Mecca for Hajj, after Ramadan in 2008.
The so-called Mecca talks leaked to the media but went ahead anyway. After that, Anas went to the Emirates and "met with some levels of the Taliban there”.
Around 2011, Anas sensed he was being cut out of the process. The Arab Spring had broken out and Rabbani, the first head of the newly established High Peace Council in Kabul, had been assassinated. The Taliban had been split by the death of Mullah Omar. By the time the office of the Taliban was set up in Doha, Anas was disconnected.
Anas’s account has been verified by a second source, who said that Qatar opened the liaison office for the Taliban in June 2013, after Saudi failed to establish an effective mechanism for liaison and communication.
The source said that Riyadh was assigned the task during the terms of the British prime minister Gordon Brown and U.S. President George W Bush. Khnaizan, the source said, helped Karzai’s brother Qayyum make a trip to Dubai where he opened bank accounts.
Britain and the U.S. only turned to Qatar to liaise with the Taliban because of the failure of the Saudis, the source claimed.
The New York Times published leaked emails from the Emirati ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba which revealed that the UAE had originally sought to host the Taliban liaison office.
Otaiba sought to rebut the article in a letter to the New York Times. He confirmed that the UAE had been prepared to host the Taliban but claimed they had imposed three conditions - that the Taliban denounce Al-Qaeda; that they recognize the Afghan constitution; and that the Taliban must lay down their weapons. This is contradicted by MEE sources.
Anas knows one thing. Somewhere along the line, the governments he attempted to bring in to the process ruined it with their own agendas.
"I recognized later on, even though the words ‘reconciliation’ or ‘peace talks’ were accepted by all, that that does not mean they wanted real peace talks. I recognize the agendas of politicians and governments. Even though they accept the principle, in reality they were not necessarily working for the peace I want.”