A year after the Biden administration's disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the refugee crisis is only worsening. By the end of last year, 3.5 million people had been displaced within Afghanistan's borders, and more than two million had fled the country, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Washington bears significant responsibility for this, and it should do more to help.
But so should another American ally: Qatar. The tiny desert kingdom played a key role in facilitating the Taliban's conquest of Afghanistan last year. In the early 2010s, senior Taliban leaders, with the support of the Qatari government, moved to the country's capital, Doha, to establish an office to conduct talks with the Obama administration. Qatar's acceptance of the Taliban was hardly a shock. The country has served as a haven for members of many extremists groups, including Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al Qaeda affiliate groups. This makes Qatar a de facto state sponsor of terrorism, but also affords it significant geopolitical power. A country smaller in area than Connecticut with fewer than 300,000 citizens, Qatar has a seat at the negotiating table in multiple Middle Eastern conflicts.
In this case, it got to lead talks with a global superpower. As the U.S. surge in Afghanistan faltered, the Obama administration sought a political settlement with the Taliban and ultimately to withdraw from the country. By January 2012, several Taliban negotiators moved to Qatar and initiated secret talks with U.S. and European officials under Qatari auspices. The Taliban were waging war against the U.S., and their partnership with al Qaeda was still in place. However bad it looked, the Obama administration wanted out. The Qataris were eager to make that happen.
The arrangement had stumbling blocks. In 2013 the Taliban raised their banner over its Doha headquarters and a sign calling it the "political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." When U.S. and Afghan officials objected, a Taliban spokesman said "the raising of the flag and the use of the name of Islamic Emirate were done with the agreement of the Qatari government."
The Qatar-led negotiations stalled. But in late 2013, Doha initiated a new round of discussions, using a prisoner swap to generate momentum. The Taliban exchanged Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who deserted his post in eastern Afghanistan, for five notorious Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban Five, as they were known, were all allies of al Qaeda. Two were responsible for terrorist attacks, and one was a founding member of the Taliban. When the deal was struck, the Taliban immediately celebrated it as a victory. The Taliban Five were subsequently involved in the negotiations with Washington.
Talks with the Taliban continued into the Trump years. The desire to end the "endless war" in Afghanistan found support among Democrats and Republicans. The Taliban's Doha office continued to serve as the hub for talks with American officials. With the help of the Qataris, the Taliban somehow burnished the image of a responsible government, as opposed to the terrorist group the world knew them to be.
On Feb. 29, 2020, the Trump administration signed a Qatar-brokered deal. The Taliban weren't required to denounce al Qaeda. They made only vague promises not to allow terror groups to operate in Afghanistan (a promise they had also made before 9/11). The agreement ignored the interests of the Afghan people. The Taliban weren't required to share power, or to recognize the Afghan constitution. There was no mention of women's rights.
On April 13, 2021, President Biden sealed Afghanistan's fate by announcing a full withdrawal, starting immediately. Mr. Biden made the inexplicable error of removing military assets before evacuating American civilians. Four months later, on Aug. 15, 2021, the Taliban entered Kabul and the Afghan government collapsed. Millions have fled as the Islamist regime has repressed citizens and hunted dissidents.
One year later, Washington is still seeking solutions to this displacement, but not with nearly enough gusto. America is the top donor to the U.N. refugee commission, with $1.8 billion in aid, but has done little else. Doha, among the world's wealthiest countries per capita, has touted its $25 million donation in support of refugees, along with 700 tons of food and medicine. That is simply not enough.
Qatar, however, has something more valuable to offer: homes. The country will soon host soccer's World Cup and has built lodging for thousands of fans expected to soon flood the tiny emirate. According to one official's comments to Reuters, Qatar has built more than 100,000 rooms. These include hotels, apartments, cabins on cruise ships and Bedouin-style tents. All of them are set to be dismantled after the games, but they could easily be offered to the Afghan refugees and asylum seekers for whose plight Doha is in part responsible.
Qatar would almost certainly balk at this proposal. One can imagine the emirate's leaders citing a lack of capacity to absorb so many refugees. Yet the country currently hosts more than two million foreign workers, mostly from South Asia. Why are they suitable for temporary stay in Qatar, but not Afghans?
A year after America's shambolic withdrawal, Washington should do more to atone for its mistakes. So should Doha. Qatar should provide Afghans shelter until a permanent solution is found.
Mr. Schanzer is senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. Roggio is a senior fellow at FDD and editor of its Long War Journal.