Sir Nick Kay. Photo: UN

Ghani – Khalilzad “psychodrama” collapsed the republic, says former British ambassador

Former British Ambassador and NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan, Sir Nick Kay, has said that the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan will not last, calling on opposition leaders and groups to use their time in exile to unite behind a shared political agenda.

Speaking to KabulCast podcast, the former British diplomat said that Afghan political leaders must accept their responsibility in the Taliban’s return to power.

He said: “They bear an enormous responsibility for what transpired in terms of the republic, just not being a creditable and cohesive political entity. That is something that they need to address now that they have the opportunity and time in exile outside the country to focus on learning the lessons from that experience.” He said.

The Taliban, Sir Nick Kay said, are committing crimes against humanity and must be held to account by the international community, saying that:

“People talk about gender apartheid as being a crime against humanity, but I don’t think you need to even get to gender apartheid. The Rome Statute, establishing the International Criminal Court in 1998 Rome Statute, for which Afghanistan is a signatory and has ratified as well, Article seven of that in paragraph one, section H, says, what are crimes against humanity is persecution against any identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender or other grounds. Now, this strikes me that a lot of what is happening in Afghanistan is certainly persecution on gender grounds.”

Sir Nick Kay, who was among a select group of Western diplomats to travel to Kandahar in 1995 and the first to arrive in Kabul days after the group took control of Kabul in 1996, said that the Taliban hadn’t changed. The group’s leaders, he said, use the same excuses on women and girls education as they did the previous time they were in power.

He recollected meeting Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s deputy foreign minister and a senior member of its negotiating team in Doha, in Kabul, days after the group’s forces had arrived in Kabul, brutally killing the former president Mohammad Najibullah and hanging his body from a lamp post.

“He insisted on speaking Pashto, and we had a very long conversation. This was, as I say, the first opportunity for a Western diplomat to sit down with the new government and say to them, you’ve taken over, you’re now in charge here as the de facto authorities of Afghanistan, but if you want to be recognised internationally, then that comes with obligations, responsibilities, and international legal commitments. You will be held to a high standard by the international community in terms of your conduct, your governance, and your respect for human rights, particularly girls’ rights in education. Because by then it was obvious Taliban were not allowing girls to be educated, so we had long conversations about that and with very strong echoes of what one here is today as well. He was saying, of course girls have a right to be educated. We will have to do this according to Islamic principles and Afghan tradition just give us some time once we sort out the arrangements and the curriculum. The ban is not permanent, this is a temporary measure. It was in early October 1996, and in 2023, we are still hearing the same from the Taliban on girls’ education.”

On the US and Taliban negotiations and their terms of agreement, Sir Nick Kay said:

“I was briefed occasionally by Khalilzad on what he was doing, and he would brief NATO member states as well. Sometimes he said he was consulting, but I’m not sure how much he was listening. I had a sort of privileged view, but I was only watching the videos on the screen rather than being in the actual events.

” My position was very clear throughout. I spoke over this with NATO and tried to advocate for it. One is that, yes, there needed to be a political peace agreement because nobody was ever going to win this war. Therefore, a negotiated end to it was right and in everybody’s interest.

“Secondly, was that there should be no military withdrawal without a political agreement, no comprehensive military withdrawal without a comprehensive political agreement.

“And that last point was the one that nobody would listen to on the US side, on Ambassador Khalilzad’s side, and probably in the administration back in Washington. And they were included in the Doha agreement that the Taliban was committed to starting a political process for the intra-Afghan negotiations and commit to concluding them. “

Sir Nick Kay called the relationship between Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Khalilzad a decades long “psychodrama”, which “wasn’t a good mix”.

The international community, Sir Nick Kay said, should make life difficult for the Taliban and the day of holding them to account for their crimes should come. He said:

“International justice moves slowly and it’s quite correctly blind and deaf as justice should be. But in the end, there are plenty of examples of where people are being held to account, such as Slobodan Milosevic being arrested and imprisoned 60 years after his crimes. There are other examples as well. In the meanwhile, there are other ways in which life could be made less comfortable for the Taliban.”