Taliban say a deal has been signed with a company in the United Arab Emirates to manage airports

ISLAMABAD — The Taliban on Tuesday announced a deal that would allow an Emirati company to manage three airports in Afghanistan after the country’s US-backed government was toppled. However, the United Arab Emirates did not immediately recognize the deal.

Under the deal, Abu Dhabi-based firm GAAC Solutions would manage airports in Herat, Kabul and Kandahar, the Taliban said. They held a press conference in Kabul where they signed the contract with a person they identified as GAAC’s executive director.

Ghulam Jelani Wafa, Taliban Deputy Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, signed the agreement. Also present was Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban-appointed Deputy Prime Minister, who described the deal as a renewal of an airport groundhandling agreement with the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms home to long-haul airlines Emirates and Etihad Airways.

However, the deal left more questions than answers, especially since Qatar and Turkey had planned to operate the airports, although the deal apparently failed due to the requirements to have their own security personnel at the airports.

The Gulf Arab nation has already agreed to represent the United States in Taliban-run Afghanistan after the American embassy in Kabul was closed and all US forces were withdrawn from the country in late August. Meanwhile, since the takeover, Qatar Airways had been operating flights to evacuate American citizens from Afghanistan.

The Taliban have not discussed the terms of the deal with the UAE, which has had strained relations with both Turkey and Qatar in recent years, although tensions have recently eased.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Acting Deputy Prime Minister of the Afghan Taliban's caretaker government, center, and GAAC Solutions Chief Financial Officer Razack Aslam Mohammed Abdur Razack, second from left, join others in prayer during a document signing ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. The Taliban announced on Tuesday that they have signed a deal allowing Abu Dhabi-based GAAC Solutions to manage airports in Herat, Kabul and Kandahar.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Acting Deputy Prime Minister of the Afghan Taliban’s caretaker government, center, and GAAC Solutions Chief Financial Officer Razack Aslam Mohammed Abdur Razack, second from left, join others in prayer during a document signing ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. The Taliban announced on Tuesday that they have signed a deal allowing Abu Dhabi-based GAAC Solutions to manage airports in Herat, Kabul and Kandahar.
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

According to Afghan state-run news agency Bakhtar, Baradar had recently traveled to Abu Dhabi to offer his condolences on the death of his president and to speak with its new leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. However, the UAE has never confirmed his visit.

The Emirates Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. GAAC Solutions had described itself on a one-page website as a joint venture based in Abu Dhabi, whose partners include the company G42. G42 officials have refused to find out who owns the company, although many suspect it links to Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.

Hours after the announcement, G42 told The Associated Press in a statement that on August 15, 2021, it “withdrew from the GAAC consortium and ceased operations effective immediately.” That was the day the Taliban invaded Kabul and civil aviation authorities warned they no longer controlled the country’s airspace.

“We have not had any operational involvement in Afghanistan since then,” G42 said. It declined to explain why the GAAC website, which became inaccessible later Tuesday night, had publicly listed G42 as a partner.

GAAC did not respond to emails requesting comments. Emirates state news agency WAM has also not recognized the deal, even though the UAE was one of the few nations to allow the Taliban to maintain diplomatic posts in their country during their previous rule.

Taliban flags fly at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 9, 2021. The Taliban on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 announced a deal that will allow Abu Dhabi-based firm GAAC Solutions to operate airports in Herat, Kabul and to administer Kandahar.  However, the United Arab Emirates did not immediately recognize the deal.
Taliban flags fly at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 9, 2021. The Taliban on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 announced a deal that would allow Abu Dhabi-based firm GAAC Solutions to manage airports in Herat, Kabul and Kandahar.
AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, file

GAAC reportedly signed a $47 million services contract in 2020 to operate airports in Afghanistan, including ground handling, information technology and security.

During the ceremony, Baradar said the Taliban want good relations with all countries and called on investors to come and invest in Afghanistan. He insisted that the Taliban government would provide facilities and security for them.

“After a while while the negotiations on the air transport agreement were going on, thank God it came to a conclusion and the agreement was closed,” Baradar said.

The Taliban, however, have faced scathing international criticism of their rule since they violently seized the country last August amid the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. They have refused to reopen schools for girls over sixth grade, despite previous promises. Last week they ordered women who work in television to cover their faces.

“If the deal is true, it may improve perceived stability at Afghanistan’s airports and attract some airlines and investments to the country, but Afghanistan’s insecurity and tough domestic Taliban policies are likely to continue to limit interest,” risk consultancy RANE said in a statement Analysis.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/24/taliban-say-deal-signed-with-uae-firm-to-manage-airports/ Taliban say a deal has been signed with a company in the United Arab Emirates to manage airports

JACLYN DIAZ

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