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Taliban Allow UAE Company to Run Operations at Key Afghan Airports

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Acting Deputy Prime Minister of the Afghan Taliban's caretaker government, center, and the chief financial officer of GAAC Solutions, Razack Aslam Mohammed Abdur Razack, shake hands after signing documents in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 24, 2022.

The Taliban government signed an agreement Tuesday with a state-run United Arab Emirates aviation company to allow it run “ground-handling” operations at three airports in Afghanistan, including Kabul.

Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and officials of the UAE-based GAAC Solutions attended the signing ceremony in the Afghan capital.

Addressing the event, Baradar said he hoped the deal would give confidence to all international airlines to return to Afghanistan in peace and lead to increased trade with other countries.

“Afghanistan has been affected by wars and extreme poverty, and now we are rebuilding it,” he said. “We seek good relations with all countries and urge them to invest in Afghanistan to help its strife-torn people.”

The Taliban leader assured investing nations his government will provide them with all facilities, cooperation and security so they can invest in all Afghan sectors, including mining.

Under the 18-month contract, control and management of airports in the southern city of Kandahar and western city of Herat will also be handed over to the UAE company.

The GAAC was handling ground operations in Kabul until August 15, 2021, when the Taliban insurgency seized power from the now defunct Western-backed government.

The last U.S. and NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan later that month, ending almost 20 years of war with the Taliban.

Taliban officials noted they renegotiated the existing agreement directly with GAAC, with certain amendments, and clarified that the deal was with only the company and not with the UAE government.

The UAE's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, according to wire news reports.

Razeq Aslam Mohammad Abdul Razeq, GAAC’s managing director, sounded optimistic that the renewed deal would signal the return to Afghanistan of business, trade, commerce and people-to-people contact after months of disruption.

“We are hoping that they would come back to us in terms seeing the continuity of the same people who handled them before the events of August 2021,” Razeq said during Tuesday’s event.

The global community has not yet recognized the Taliban government, citing a lack of inclusivity and concerns related to human rights and terrorism.

The Islamist group has increasingly curbed women’s rights since returning to power despite global outcry and warnings that such measures would discourage donor nations from establishing political and economic ties with Kabul.

Qatar and Turkey had sent temporary technical teams to help airport operations and security after the Taliban takeover of Kabul last year.

A Qatar-Turkey consortium has been in talks with the Taliban aviation ministry for months over airport operations in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif as well as the southeastern city of Khost.

Those talks could not make headway because the Taliban reportedly insisting that their forces, not foreigners, would guard the airports. The fate of the dialogue is unknown and Taliban officials Tuesday declined to comment on the subject.

Some information for this report comes from Reuters.