Following the conference held last November (2021) at the Peace Museum in Naples, we had the opportunity to ask the ambassador some questions about the present but also about the future of his Afghanistan.
Although the situation of the war in Ukraine (following the invasion of Russia) has gained the limelight of international politics, the Afghan case still remains of primary importance for understanding contemporary international politics. A little more than twenty years after September 11, 2001, recent developments in the Afghan state tell us about the fundamental transformations of the international order today. To discuss these processes through the voice of the protagonists, last November, at the evocative location offered by the Museum of Peace in Naples was held, under the patronage of the Italian Institute for Future, the Center for European Futures, the Center for Studies on Contemporary Europe and the Mediterranean Foundation, an important conference on Afghanistan, which falls – as noted earlier – twenty years after the fateful intervention of the US-led international coalition against the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda. The guest of honour of the conference was the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Afghanistan in Italy, H.E. Khaled A. Zekriya. During his speech, the ambassador showed gratitude for the Italian efforts for his country and expressed his doubts and perplexities about the future of Afghanistan and the possible scenarios in which it could incur. Particular significance, during the ambassador’s speech, was placed on the serious humanitarian and economic situation in Afghanistan and especially on the condition of women since the Taliban took power. Power that on several occasions has been defined as illegitimate by the Ambassador who has exposed how, under international law, the Taliban do not legitimately hold the government of the country. Afghanistan, the Ambassador continued, has its own constitution (in force since 2004) and which remains internationally valid today. Afghan embassies around the world, he explained, are in contact with each other by making a common front against this crisis. Another particular focus was placed by the Ambassador on the instability of the Taliban government itself, which today has great difficulties in managing the state structure (a task aggravated by the very strong economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic) and is indeed threatened on several fronts by numerous armed groups and non-state internal and neighboring actors who put the very integrity of Afghanistan at risk. A very unstable situation that is favoring the aims of some international actors, in particular China, which has repeatedly shown interest in dealing with the Taliban government to promote its geopolitical and geoeconomic strategy (Belt and Road Initiative and Tapi in particular). Finally, even “ironic” were the ambassador’s words towards the Doha agreements, which in fact sanctioned the “abandonment” of Afghanistan and the democratic government by US and NATO troops, leaving the country at the mercy of the Taliban. The ambassador’s words showed a picture that is certainly not easy and that is still being defined. At the same time, these words also raised several important issues. Some of these have become as many questions that I asked directly to the ambassador in a short interview proposed below.
During the conference, you briefly mentioned that Afghan embassies around the world maintained contact with the Taliban government after the fall of Kabul. Have you received official communications from the Taliban? If so, what is – if any – the common line outlined by the embassies to deal with such situation?
“During the conference, I indicated that few of our missions stationed in our region (Central and South Asia and in the Gulf States) might be in contact with the Taliban. As it relates to our embassy and mission in Rome, as the Taliban Acting Foreign Minister tried to get in contact with me and have send us several memos, I indicated to their conduits that since Taliban took power by force and are devoid of internal and external legitimacy, including diplomatically not being recognized, I do not take orders nor respond to their letters. As a proud representative and servant of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, I stand to protect the state’s constitution, the republic, and our cherished democratic citizenry rights and values that we and our international partners worked so hard to protect in the last 20 years in Afghanistan. We are indebted for Italy’s sacrifices rendered both in blood and treasure in Afghanistan. The loss of the 53 brave Italian soldiers’ precious lives in the fight against global terrorism and protection of democracy in Afghanistan as well as the 700 Italian soldiers that still carry the wounds of this war will not be in vain. Their sacrifices will be marked as immortal in Afghanistan’s contemporary history.”
The current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is extremely serious. In this crisis, it seems that especially the condition of women is raising serious concerns in Western and global media. Do you think that Taliban’s policy towards women – which will likely worsen their overall working and social status – will lead to (I) a greater international general interest, and (II) a more proactive approach by the International community?
“As a radical Islamist and transnational movement, sponsored and supported by various state and non-state actors, the Taliban group cannot and will not modify their views about Afghan women’s rights due to their indoctrination in Madrasa in Pakistan. Hence, deradicalizing a radical group is wishful thinking. A few older and relatively moderate leaders of the Taliban in the Doha group that want to show some leniency toward Afghan women and girls either do not possess central power and/or do not want to alienate and create further fragmentation amongst the Taliban rank/file, foot soldiers and their terrorist affiliates such as Al Qaeda etc. Hence, the culture of moral policing will continue to be applied on women in Afghanistan. In view of the continuous violation of women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan, including their abduction, imprisonment, torture, and killings, the international community especially the human rights groups, UN, some states, and civil society have been proactive on making sure that the Taliban are accountable for their actions. However, some states have lowered their expectations from the Taliban by overtly or covertly engaging with the Taliban with the intention of diplomatically recognizing them. In fact, some of these states have allowed Taliban diplomats to work at the IRoA missions prior to the recognition of the Taliban regime. These overtures are an indirect form of granting diplomatic legitimacy to the Taliban regime. Unfortunately, this is the repeat of late 1996 policies and adopted discourse by some states with the Taliban 1.0 regime irrespective of their human rights violation and terrorist activities in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s abduction of innocent Afghan women, civil society members and journalists, banning of education, suppressing access to information, suffocating the media, harboring terrorists, kidnapping foreign citizens, formalizing gender suppression and then using each of these items as bargaining chip in negotiations to gain diplomatic recognition is very alarming. Therefore, if this employed tactic leads to their diplomatic recognition, this will surely set up a precedent and encourage and embolden other terrorist organizations to topple legitimate governments in other parts of the world. This be would a paradigm change that will disturb the international order in the 21st Century.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the Grand Mufti emeritus of Bosnia Mustafà Céric, talking at length about the Afghan situation and the open letter of warning that he has sent to the Taliban. In the letter, the Grand Mufti expressed the idea to create a humanitarian corridor between Afghanistan, Bosnia and Italy. At present, are you in contact with high religious offices? Could a common strategy between politics and religious leaders push the Taliban to considering the option of a more inclusive and moderate government?
“Currently, I am not in contact with high religious offices. But I fully support any policy or strategy between Islamic religious circles/leaders and the Taliban to influence them in considering forming an inclusive and representative government in Afghanistan. Despite OIC’s continuous efforts and Islamic theologian’s religious pronouncements (Fetwa) to encourage the Taliban toward moderation and inclusivity, their responses to the Islamic community’s call have been negative. In fact, in some of the latest interviews conducted with members of the Taliban, the Taliban have explicitly indicated that all Islamic countries’ approach to Islam and governance is in full deviance from the teachings of what they call and epitomize as “True Islam”! Hence, it is safe to say that the Taliban’s defiance knows no bounds and their Six months of hostage diplomacy with impunity won’t change; gender apartheid, basic human rights violations, extrajudicial arrests, and crimes against humanity committed under Taliban will continue until their collapse.”
Back to the mentioned conference of Naples, you talked about the Doha agreement with serious concern. The agreement, in fact, can be considered as the final step of the ‘war on terror’ strategy that – after twenty years and huge losses on many levels – has came to terms with those same terrorist groups against which it was raised. In this respect, do Afghan embassies feel abandoned by the choice of the USA to make deals with the Taliban (considering also the policy of disengagement from the Middle Eastern that they have been carrying out especially since the Obama presidency)? Do you think that, given the USA choice, other international actors will have a more proactive voice in the Afghan stalemate?
“I refer to the signing of the US-Taliban Doha Agreement as the last nail hit in the coffin of our Democratic Republic. Sadly, the unilateral and irresponsible US withdrawal from Afghanistan led to the burial of our Democratic Republic coffin. The next most disturbing thing about President Biden’s response to the current crisis in Afghanistan is how he tends to treat it as an annoyance that’s been unfairly imposed upon the US rather than a serious moral, strategic, and humanitarian problem in which they have had a major role in for 40 years.
I strongly believe that not only Afghan embassies, but also the people of Afghanistan and a lot of nations feel detached and/or abandoned by the US’s unilateral choices and back door deals. It seems that the US is repeating the same mistakes of the late 1990s when the Taliban 1.0 assumed power in Afghanistan. I do not know whether this stems from the US’s lack of institutional memory or US administration’s presidential campaign ambitions. As it relates to other international actors, unfortunately it seems that most have followed and shall follow the US approach and policies dealing with the current Afghan stalemate with the Taliban as well as other international matters around the world.”
It seems increasingly clear that the Taliban have great difficulty in managing the routine administration of a State – apart from resorting to terror and violence. For instance, bureaucracy, monetary policy, provision of goods and services, wages, etc., require important structures and capabilities that the Taliban government appears to be lacking. In relation to this, and given also the strategy of the US, according to you will this ‘fragility’ give more room for manoeuvre to actors like China and other foreign powers? In other words, can this condition be an enabling factor for other countries to help reconstructing State structures and thus have a greater voice in the region?
“The current fragility stems from the US foreign policy failures in not addressing the real cause of terrorism which stems from various circles in Pakistan in supporting terrorist networks. If this is not addressed accordingly, religious extremism/terrorism that is the most serious existential threat to Afghanistan, will have dire consequences for Pakistan, the region and beyond. What makes things scary is the state patronage of extremist/terrorist outfits Initially when the Taliban took power, this was seen as an opportunity and enabling factor for some of our natural and near neighbors to gain concession from the Taliban regarding Afghanistan’s underground and water resources as well as unprohibited connectivity access to Central Asia. However, as time elapsed and the regime’s honeymoon was over, these countries have realized that the Taliban’s ideological commitment is far greater to extremist/terrorist and secessionist groups that want to topple their respective state structures more than their mutual economic/financial interests. As an example, former MP Zia Arayee Nezhad reports that recently in the province of Badakhshan, the Taliban have started to issue Afghan ID cards to hundreds of Uyghurs and Central Asian terrorist group fighter to protect the strategic assets and interests of the Taliban. Under such conditions, lately various state structures in the region have called for the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan knowing that they cannot trust the Taliban regime.”
6) You have told us about possible future scenarios of Afghanistan and more broadly of the Taliban government. An important part of your reflections have taken into account the numerous non-state (armed and radical) actors active on the ground, that challenge the very power of the Taliban and the integrity of Afghanistan. In this respect, do you think that a new civil war and the dismemberment of Afghan territory could be an unfortunate possibility? And, what can the International Community do to stop such a scenario?
“At this juncture, I believe that under no circumstances will we ever have a civil war. The people of Afghanistan are fully aware of the consequences of a civil war. If the Taliban regime collapses, the UN peacekeeping forces must step in and fill this vacuum with the only viable and contesting legal alternative-the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan-until the ground for a transparent election can be set in Afghanistan. We advise the international community as they continue with their operational and political engagement with the Taliban, at the same time carefully watch the events on the ground in case early signs of fragmentation and collapse becomes apparent on the ground.”
 Celebrated with great pomp two years after the start of negotiations with the Taliban, the Doha Agreements have not guaranteed the peace so desired. Signed in the Qatari capital on February 29, 2020, the agreement provided for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, by the end of April 2021. The most controversial points of the agreement, however, concern the reduction of violence and the relationship with al-Qaeda. The text provided for the Taliban to send “a clear signal” to al-Qaeda and terrorist organizations, without providing further details and without explaining the mechanisms for verifying compliance with the commitment. In https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/speciale-afghanistan-la-versione-di-biden-31369