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To Lure Indian travellers, Qatar Starts Tourism Office in Mumbai

After Qatar waived entry visas for Indians last year, it has become an increasingly accessible destination for Indian travellers, with more than 110,000 visitors in the first quarter of 2018.

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The Qatar Airways has 100 weekly direct flights connecting the capital Doha to thirteen major cities across India and 67 flights from India to Qatar by major airlines like Air India Express, Indigo Airlines and Jet Airways.
Qatar flag, Pixabay

Eyeing a chunk of tourists from India, the world’s second largest outbound tourists market, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) has opened an office here on Thursday.

QTA’s Chief Marketing and Promotion Officer Rashed AlQurese said the decision was taken in view of the rapid growth of India’s outbound tourism market in recent years, coupled with QTA’s intensified efforts to diversify and grow visitor source.

“The steps taken to make accessing Qatar easier are particularly targeted at visitors seeking to experience our country’s luxury hospitality and unique cultural offerings, all while benefiting from the convenience of relatively short flights,” AlQurese told media persons.

Eyeing a chunk of tourists from India, the world's second largest outbound tourists market, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) has opened an office here on Thursday.
Mumbai, representational Image

The QTA has about a dozen offices worldwide including in Moscow, Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, the US, China, Russia, the Gulf Cooperation Council markets and South East Asia, he added.

According to a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimate, India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020.

Similarly, the market for travel and tourism in India is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 7.23 per cent during the period 2016-2021.

QTA’s office here will oversee a wide range of promotional initiatives, including workshops, sales visits, travel agents destination training, partnerships with tour operators, familiarisation trips, media campaigns and other innovative activities to boost Qatar as a leisure and business tourism destination.

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After Qatar waived entry visas for Indians last year, it has become an increasingly accessible destination for Indian travellers, with more than 110,000 visitors in the first quarter of 2018.

The Qatar Airways has 100 weekly direct flights connecting the capital Doha to thirteen major cities across India and 67 flights from India to Qatar by major airlines like Air India Express, Indigo Airlines and Jet Airways.

Indian nationals can enter Qatar visa-free, for 30 days’ stay, which can be extended by another similar period. (IANS)

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Taliban Seeking Recognition of Qatar Office Ahead of Fresh Talks With US

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials.

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Taliban, Qatar
FILE - In this photo released by the Afghan Presidential Palace, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks to U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, third left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The Taliban says it hopes ongoing negotiations with the United States would bring a long-demanded formal recognition for the insurgent group’s “political office” in Qatar, insisting it would help accelerate consultations over the endgame in the Afghan war.

The Taliban has been informally running the office in Doha, the Qatari capital, since 2013, but the host country has not allowed it to use the facility for any public dealings under objections from the Afghan government.

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team in recent months have held several meetings with Taliban envoys mostly in Doha. The two sides are set to meet there again on Feb. 25 to build on “significant progress” they made in six days of marathon talks in January.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, in an interview told VOA that all their meetings with U.S. interlocutors and other foreign delegations take place in different hotels, making it difficult for his group to timely share details or progress with media.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Suhail Shaheen, then-deputy ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, gives an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 14, 2001. VOA

“We have raised this issue the U.S. delegation,” he said.

Shaheen noted that the Taliban last week held its first formal “intra-Afghan” dialogue in Moscow with a large group of prominent opposition leaders from Afghanistan, and a follow-up meeting of those consultations is scheduled for next month in Doha.

“The delegation from Afghanistan, of course, would come to the office (if it is recognized) and we will have a meeting with them and exchange views about the current peace process and how the Afghan issue can be resolved,” he observed.

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials, declaring the Kabul administration an illegal entity or American “puppets.” The rigid insurgent stance has also forced the U.S. to exclude President Ashraf Ghani from the dialogue process.

Ghani slammed the gathering in the Russian capital as an unauthorized dialogue and an attempt by his political opponents to gain power.

On Monday, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, while addressing a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers, blamed “stubbornness of the Taliban” for being the main and only reason behind the war. He criticized the insurgent group for indulging in “propaganda” instead of joining “real talks” with the government. He did not elaborate.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 4, 2019. VOA

Abdullah’s remarks came a day after President Ghani made an offer to the Taliban to open an office in Afghanistan for conducting talks with his government.

Shaheen dismissed the offer and criticism as an attempt to “harm and derail” the current peace process. “Afghanistan is our own country and we don’t need permission from anyone to open an office there. By making such offers at this stage, they [Ghani government] are trying to harm the peace efforts,” Shaheen said.

The Taliban controls or influences nearly half of Afghanistan, but its leaders and fighters remain under attack from U.S.-backed Afghan ground and air forces. The insurgent group is opposed to ceasing its battlefield attacks until all foreign forces withdraw from the country.

Khalilzad, while delivering a public talk in Washington last week, said that after many conversations, the U.S. has reached “an agreement in principle” with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees that no terrorist group or individuals would be able to use Afghan soil for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

“Similarly, we have agreed in principle on a framework for possible U.S. [troop] withdrawal as part of a package deal,” he noted.

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Taliban spokesman Shaheen said that both sides also agreed to appoint two working groups to flesh out these undertakings and bring them to the table for the meeting scheduled for this month in Doha. He anticipated further progress in the upcoming round of talks and vowed to again raise with U.S. delegates the issue of granting formal recognition to the Taliban’s office, because his group is determined to carry forward Afghan peace talks in Doha.

There was no U.S. response available to the Taliban’s demand. (VOA)