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Afghanistan's Embassies Remain In Limbo As Most Staff Still Loyal To Toppled Government

Police were called to Afghanistan's embassy in Rome earlier this month after an Afghan diplomat attacked the ambassador. He claimed the Taliban had appointed him to the post.

Many of Afghanistan’s diplomats watched from abroad as the government they served collapsed in August.

But five months since the Taliban takeover, many of them remain loyal to the fallen Western-backed government and have refused to hand over their diplomatic missions to the militant group.

Many Afghan embassies still fly the black-red-and-green tricolor flag. Even as they run out of funds, many are still offering consular services for Afghans abroad and foreigners seeking to travel to Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, the Taliban has ramped up its efforts to wrest control of Afghanistan’s 65 foreign posts. The move comes as the Taliban seeks international recognition for its Islamic Emirate, which no country has yet recognized.

‘Cannot Just Switch Over’

An exiled Afghan ambassador serving in Europe told RFE/RL that he recently moved his embassy to a rented home. To reduce costs, he has cut staff and abandoned the two grand villas that previously housed the embassy and the diplomat’s official residence.

“We cannot just abandon our embassies,” said the exiled diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his family members still in Afghanistan. "We are doing our best to turn our diplomatic missions into self-sustaining missions.”

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi meets with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad in December.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi meets with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad in December.

He said the embassy was trying to raise funds by increasing the fees for consular services, including issuing, verifying, and extending documents for Afghans and granting occasional visas to Western humanitarian workers or journalists.

"We represented the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” the diplomat said, referring to the official name of the former Afghan government. “We cannot just switch over to representing the Islamic Emirate, which is not recognized by any country."

Defying The Taliban

After the Taliban seized power on August 15, it sent letters and text messages to Afghan ambassadors ranging from introductions to demands for sharing personnel information and work plans.

But many of Afghanistan's 45 embassies and 20 consulates have defied the Taliban. Some have rebuffed Taliban appointments and actively campaigned against the militants. Some embassies, including the one in neighboring Tajikistan, have become hubs for anti-Taliban opposition.

But the Taliban has recently stepped up its efforts to replace exiled diplomats who have resisted its rule, especially those serving in neighboring countries.

Soon after seizing power, the Taliban took over the Afghan diplomatic mission in neighboring Pakistan, where many Taliban leaders resided during the group’s nearly 20-year insurgency against the internationally recognized Afghan government and foreign troops.

On January 10, Afghanistan's ambassador to China, Javid Ahmad Qaem, announced that he had left his post.

In a tweet, Qaem said that many diplomats at the embassy had already left and Kabul had not sent them salaries since August.

A meeting at the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on December 31.
A meeting at the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on December 31.

"There are many reasons, personal and professional, but I don't want to mention them here," he said of his decision to leave China, a close ally of Pakistan, which is a longtime backer of the Taliban.

Qaem said a new person had been assigned to the embassy, naming him only as "Mr. Sadaat."

Weeks earlier, the Taliban appointed Abdul Qayyum Sulaimani as the head of the Afghan Embassy in neighboring Iran in a move that was described as a “power grab.”

On January 5, Afghanistan’s embassy in Rome said it was forced to call Italian police for help after a sacked Afghan diplomat attacked the ambassador.

The embassy said in a statement that the former diplomat -- identified as Mohammad Fahim Kashaf -- entered the embassy building a day earlier claiming he had been named ambassador by the Taliban.

The statement said Kashaf “attacked the ambassador in the presence of an embassy employee but the ambassador defended himself and called the Italian police."

Kashaf was escorted by police out of the embassy, it added.

In Kabul, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry denied Kashaf had been appointed ambassador but also said he had not been dismissed.

Flying On Autopilot

Another Afghan ambassador serving in Europe told RFE/RL that the embassy had so far managed to rebuff the Taliban’s efforts to take control of the mission.

"They have tried to impose their control,” he said. “But our host country recognizes a state, not a particular government. They understood our circumstances."

But he said it was unclear how long they could hold out for.

"Our main problem is financial,” he said. “We have not received money to pay salaries for four months and to pay for expenses for seven months. It will be difficult to operate the embassies in the long run.”

Members of the Taliban overlook the city of Kabul on January 10.
Members of the Taliban overlook the city of Kabul on January 10.

Some former Afghan officials have talked about the possibility of establishing a government in exile. But talks among the country’s squabbling former political figures have yet to make progress.

"We can perhaps keep operating for years, but to what end?" said the ambassador. "Individual actions will not amount to anything, and the leadership of the fallen republic must unite behind a vision."

A female Afghan diplomat serving in Europe told RFE/RL that many ambassadors were struggling with how to serve a government that no longer existed.

"We are on autopilot," she said.