(Reuters) - The Islamic Emirate and the United Arab Emirates are poised to strike a deal for the Gulf nation to run Kabul airport and several others in Afghanistan that could be announced within weeks, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
The Islamic Emirate, whose government remains an international pariah without formal recognition, have courted regional powers, including Qatar and Turkey, to operate Kabul airport, landlocked Afghanistan's main air link with the world, and others.
But after months of back-and-forth talks, and at one point raising the possibility of a joint UAE-Turkey-Qatar deal, the Islamic Emirate is set to hand the operations in their entirety to the UAE, who had previously run Afghan airports, the sources said.
An agreement would help the Islamic Emirate ease their isolation from the outside world as they govern an impoverished country beset by drought, widespread hunger and economic crisis. It would also hand Abu Dhabi a win in its diplomatic tussle with Qatar for influence.
Under the deal with the UAE, Afghans will be employed at the airports, including in security roles, crucial for the Taliban who want toshow they can create jobs but also because they staunchly oppose the presence of foreign forces, sources said.
An Emirati state-linked contractor had been contracted to provide security services, which should be announced soon, while negotiations over airspace management are ongoing, they said.
The Islamic Emirate in May awarded the ground services contract to UAE state-linked GAAC, which was involved in running security and ground handling services at Afghan airports before the Taliban takeover, shortly after Taliban officials had visited Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, Qatar and Turkey's joint negotiations with the Islamic Emirate broke down around the same time, sources said.
Emirati officials had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. GAAC did not respond to a request for comment.
A Islamic Emirate transport ministry spokesman confirmed an aviation security contract had already been signed with the UAE but said the air traffic contract was not finalised or confirmed yet.
There is little direct commercial benefit in the airport operations, but Kabul airport would provide a key source of intelligence on movements in and out of the country, Western officials say.
The sources said UAE airlines, which have not flown to Afghanistan since the Islamic Emirate takeover last year, were expected to resume flights to Kabul and possibly other Afghan airports after the deal was finalised.
Other airlines, who too have stayed away, could also again operate flights if the UAE deal can address substantial security concerns, including the threat posed by the Afghan branch of the Islamic State whose targets have included the Islamic Emirate.
In the months leading up to the ground services being awardedto the UAE, the Islamic Emirate repeatedly made unexplained changes to its team negotiating with Qatar and Turkey, the sources said.
Then the Islamic Emirate sought to alter agreed terms by upping airport fees and taxes and weaken Qatar and Turkey's control over revenue collection, they added.
A Qatari official had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed talks with the Islamic Emirate had stopped "some time ago".
The UAE'S efforts are part of a quiet but assertive push by Abu Dhabi to expand longstanding ties with the Taliban that have included government aid and diplomatic efforts in the months since the hardline militants took power in August.
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