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Qatar builds a brand as mediator

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The talks have had mixed results. But for Qatar, playing host has raised its international profile, helped forge allies in the West, and won praise almost universally. Mediation is proving to be a powerful – and fail-safe – way to boost its brand.

"There is no risk associated with it," says Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center. "You are rewarded if you succeed, but you're not blamed if you don't succeed."

The Taliban's planned arrival had raised the stakes for Qatar, however. If the Taliban could be persuaded to return to talks, it would be by far the highest-profile group to set up shop here and could present significant challenges for Qatar, which – for all its hospitality – has shown itself to be a green mediator.

The Taliban lacks solid political demands, and the United States has already put strict conditions on the talks; for example, the Taliban guarantee that women's rights will be protected.

Should the door for Taliban talks reopen, Doha's role in any potential mediation is not yet defined, and it's unlikely they would be content to merely provide the venue.

"Qataris are fiercely independent, a bit unpredictable, and completely uncontrollable," says Robert Danin, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington who has closely followed the Palestinian talks in Doha.

But Qatar is still, for now, by far the best option for negotiations, says Obaid Younossi, director of the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute in Doha and an expert on the conflict in Afghanistan – not least because it has taken a job no one else seems eager to do.

Free hotels, medical care

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