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DUBAI - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among the few who recognised the Taliban's radical 1996-2001 rule in Afghanistan, will likely take a pragmatic approach to its return to power despite fears it could embolden militant Islam abroad.
Foreign diplomats and analysts said while Taliban ideology clashed with the Saudi-UAE campaign against militancy and with Riyadh's recent relaxation of Islamic strictures, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would adapt to realities after the Taliban's shockingly swift reconquest of Afghanistan as U.S.-led forces withdrew.
Gulf powers severed ties with the Taliban in September 2001 for "harbouring terrorists" after airplanes hijacked by al Qaeda militants, mostly Saudi nationals, crashed into New York’s World Trade Center and Washington's Pentagon, killing thousands.
Riyadh had already frozen ties with the Taliban in 1998 over its refusal to hand over then-al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who made his name fighting Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the 1980s and was stripped of his Saudi citizenship for attacks in the kingdom and activities against the royal family.
"The Saudis have a historical relationship with Afghanistan and will eventually have to accept the Taliban (again)...They have no other option," said a foreign diplomat in Riyadh, who like others asked not to be further identified.
Whether pragmatism will extend to a re-establishment of diplomatic relations is unknown: Saudi and UAE authorities did not respond to Reuters requests for comment regarding Afghanistan and the Taliban.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have limited their response to the Taliban takeover to saying they would respect the choice of Afghans and urging the group to foster security and stability after a protracted insurgency against U.S.-backed rule.
"Both countries are pragmatic and have proven they can work with different regimes around the world," a diplomat based in Qatar said.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE tried to facilitate inter-Afghan peace talks after the fall of the Taliban 20 years ago, but were not involved in the main negotiations hosted by Qatar that failed to yield a political settlement.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, a Qatari ruling family member and former premier, said countries will have to deal directly with the Taliban.
"The world should respect the current situation in Afghanistan and not take measures to restrict them (Taliban)," he tweeted on Wednesday. "The international community should give them hope that it will accept them and cooperate with them in return for their commitment to international norms."
Two diplomats in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a representative office, said Gulf states were likely to take their cue from top security ally the United States. Washington has not said whether it would recognise a Taliban government.