| 3 March 2024, Sunday |

Afghan envoys marooned abroad after Taliban’s sudden return

Hundreds of Afghan diplomats throughout the world are in limbo as a result of the Taliban’s sudden return to power: they’re out of money to keep their missions running, they’re worried about their families back home, and they’re desperate to find safety abroad.

On Tuesday, the Islamist militant outfit that overthrew Afghanistan’s Western-backed government announced it had delivered messages to all of its embassies instructing ambassadors to continue their duties.

However, eight embassy employees in nations like as Canada, Germany, and Japan who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity revealed dysfunction and despair at their posts.

“My colleagues here and in many places are appealing with host countries to accept them,” one Afghan ambassador in Berlin said, adding that he was afraid of what would happen to his wife and four daughters who remained in Kabul if his name was used.

“I am literally begging. Diplomats are willing to become refugees,” he said, adding he would have to sell everything, including a large house in Kabul, and “start all over again”.

According to Afzal Ashraf, an international relations expert and visiting fellow at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, Afghanistan’s overseas missions are in a state of “prolonged limbo” as governments determine whether or not to recognize the Taliban.

“What are the options for those embassies? They don’t speak for the government. They don’t have a policy to put into place “He went on to say that embassy workers would most likely be given political asylum if they returned to Afghanistan owing to safety concerns.

The Taliban, who enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law with punishments like amputations and stonings during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, have sought to show a more conciliatory face since coming back to power.

Spokespeople have reassured Afghans that they are not out for revenge and will respect people’s rights, including women’s.

But reports of house-to-house searches and reprisals against former officials and ethnic minorities have made people wary. The Taliban have vowed to investigate any abuses.

A group of envoys from the deposed government issued a first-of-its-kind joint statement, reported by Reuters on Wednesday ahead of its public release, calling on world leaders to deny the Taliban formal recognition.


At a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday, Afghanistan’s Acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, said the Taliban had sent signals to all Afghan embassies urging them to continue working.

“Afghanistan has put a lot of money into you; you are Afghanistan’s assets,” he remarked.

According to one top Afghan diplomat, over 3,000 Afghans work in or are directly dependent on the country’s embassies.

On Sept. 8, the overthrown administration of ousted president Ashraf Ghani wrote a letter to foreign missions, declaring the Taliban’s new government “illegitimate” and urged embassies to “perform their normal operations and obligations.”

But these calls for continuity do not reflect the chaos on the ground, embassy staff said.

“There is no money. It is not possible to operate in such circumstances. I am not being paid now,” a source at the Afghan embassy in Canada’s capital Ottawa said.

Two Afghan embassy staffers in New Delhi said they were also running out of cash for a mission serving thousands of Afghans who are trying to find ways home to reunite with families or need help applying for asylum in other countries.

Both staffers said they would not return to Afghanistan for fear of being targeted due to their connections to the previous government, but would also struggle to get asylum in India where thousands of Afghans have spent years seeking refugee status.

“I have to just sit tight for now in the embassy premises and wait to exit to any nation that is willing to accept me and my family,” one said.


Some of Afghanistan’s envoys have openly criticized the Taliban.

Manizha Bakhtari, the country’s Austria ambassador, regularly posts allegations of human rights abuses by the Taliban on Twitter, while China envoy Javid Ahmad Qaem warned against believing Taliban promises on extremist groups.

Others are lying low, hoping that their host countries will not rush to recognize the group and put them at risk.

Several Afghan diplomats said they would be closely watching the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations in New York next week where there is uncertainty over who will fill Afghanistan’s seat.

United Nations credentials give weight to a government, and no one has yet formally claimed Afghanistan’s seat. Any move seen as legitimizing the Taliban might empower the group to replace embassy staff with their own, the diplomats said.

In Tajikistan, some embassy staff managed to bring their families across the border in recent weeks and they are considering converting the embassy into residential premises to house them, a senior diplomat there said.

And, like peers spread out across the globe, they have no plans to return home with the Taliban back in power.

“It’s very clear that not a single Afghan diplomat posted overseas wants to go back,” said a senior Afghan diplomat in Japan. “We are all determined to stay where we are and maybe many countries will accept we are a part of a government that is in exile.”

  • Reuters