Hassan Soroosh has found himself in an unusual situation in Ottawa. The Afghan ambassador has no government to report back to.
Since Kabul fell to the Taliban in a swift and dramatic takeover on Aug. 15, the embassy in Ottawa has not had any contact with Afghanistan’s capital.
More than three months later, the Taliban maintain their grip on the country. Mr. Soroosh, his wife and two children have no prospects of returning to their homeland in the immediate future.
“It has been very much stressful for all of us,” Mr. Soroosh said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “Many people are at high risk, especially those who work for the [former] government.”
Mr. Soroosh is trying to keep Afghanistan’s embassy open with limited funds and no support from Kabul. The embassy has been forced to downsize, and the remaining staff, including Mr. Soroosh, have taken a pay cut. Afghanistan’s consulates in Toronto and Vancouver face the same situation.
“We are basically trying to be the voice of our people,” Mr. Soroosh said. “It’s a moral obligation for all of us.”
The embassy has reallocated funds to sustain its operations and provide basic consular services, especially for the nearly 4,000 Afghan refugees who have fled the conflict and resettled in Canada. The embassy can provide some necessary paperwork to newcomers, such as driver’s licences, birth certificates and university documents, without the support of a government in Afghanistan. However, staff are unable to provide certain consular services that require confirmation from Kabul, such as police certificates and clearances.
Canada says it has no plans to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government, and Global Affairs Canada still lists Mr. Soroosh as the ambassador on its website.
Mr. Soroosh said he is working with other Afghan diplomats around the world to co-ordinate efforts on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. He said most of the former government’s diplomats stayed in place, as the Taliban have not appointed their own officials to foreign countries. However, he said there have been rumblings that they appointed junior diplomats to neighbouring Pakistan. He said the Taliban have tried to contact other Afghan missions, but there has been no formal communication.
The Taliban overthrew the Afghan government in August as U.S. troops prepared to withdraw from the country after two decades of war. Provincial capitals fell to the insurgents first and, in a matter of hours on Aug. 15, the Taliban drove President Ashraf Ghani out of Kabul and overran the presidential palace.
Afghanistan faces continued fighting, a collapsing economy and severe food insecurity. A recent United Nations report warned that more than half of the country’s population will face extreme hunger during Afghanistan’s harsh winter. The UN has also said the country’s financial system could face collapse within months, resulting in “colossal” negative social consequences.
Concerns that other countries will cut their foreign aid because of the Taliban takeover have also amplified economic uncertainty in Afghanistan. International aid accounted for 42.9 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2020, before the Taliban took control.
Canada and other countries are providing humanitarian support through trusted multilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Mr. Soroosh said it’s important to ensure this assistance reaches the most vulnerable Afghans and doesn’t end up in the hands of the Taliban.
“In terms of aid effectiveness and also to avoid any kind of misappropriation of aid, the most effective mechanism would be to engage UN agencies and reliable local and international NGOs,” he said.
The ambassador said he has also discussed with Global Affairs Canada the need to continue monitoring the human rights situation in Afghanistan. He said the UN Human Rights Council’s recent appointment of a special rapporteur to monitor and report on Afghanistan is a step in the right direction, but more international action is needed.
“The Taliban continue to impose restrictions on women and girls, including on their right to work and their access to education,” he said. “They’ve also put many restrictions on media outlets, on artists, on female athletes.”
Mr. Soroosh hasn’t been back to Afghanistan since he arrived in Ottawa in September, 2019. Asked if his family would consider applying for asylum in Canada, he said he is focused on his work at the embassy, but hopes to return to his homeland one day.
“We may need to stay here in Canada or another country … for a short period of time before the situation will be suitable enough for us to go back to Afghanistan.”
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