Oct 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Afghan ambassador decries country's "betrayal"

Afghanistan Ambassador to the United States Adela Raz is seen speaking with Axios' Jonathan Swan.
Ambassador Adela Raz speaks with Axios' Jonathan Swan. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Adela Raz, has lost her country and her faith in the U.S. government — and her life's work of liberating women and girls is in shambles. She shared her despair with "Axios on HBO" in her first television interview since the fall of Kabul.

The big picture: Raz said, bluntly, she doesn't think President Biden cares about the fate of Afghan women and girls. She also revealed new details to Axios indicating former President Ashraf Ghani's secret escape was more premeditated than publicly known.

In a devastating moment, she suggested she feels guilty for encouraging Afghan women to believe in a new future and serve with her in government, and for those she encouraged to stay in Afghanistan.

  • "One of them was a young woman that was assassinated. She was a human rights advocate," Raz said, tearing up.

Driving the news: The interview was taped last Monday in Raz's office on the top floor of Afghanistan's embassy in Washington.

  • She works there — effectively a refugee representing a leaderless government-in-exile.
  • She refuses to recognize the Taliban or leave her post — and said she still considers herself her country's ambassador — but the Biden administration has declined to meet with her.

The intrigue: She's kept the embassy open with a skeleton staff and flies her country's tricolor flag in the courtyard instead of the Taliban's white one.

  • Raz choked up as she looked out her office window at the tricolor flag. "That's how I know I'm Afghan," she said.

Why it matters: Raz said she no longer trusts the U.S. government and doubts any Afghan will trust U.S. policies for a long time.

  • "If you talk about democracy — I probably will question it and laugh at it," she said, when asked if she sees America as the leader of the free world. "You were engaged in building one in Afghanistan, and the people believed in it."
  • She criticized Biden's refusal to renegotiate former President Donald Trump's deal with the Taliban — a deal that had no protections for Afghan women after the U.S. withdrew.
  • But she also told Axios in a separate phone interview she fully trusts the American people and is profoundly grateful for the sacrifices that U.S. military and civilians made over the past 20 years in her country. She said she's devastated those gains were not protected.

Raz said her own government failed on many levels, including Ghani's leadership.

She said Afghan security forces relied too heavily on U.S. technical expertise and air support, and crumbled when the U.S. withdrew after 20 years of funding and training.

She said Ghani — her former boss — owes Afghans an explanation for his "betrayal" by secretly fleeing the country and effectively ceding Kabul to the Taliban without a fight.

Flashback: Raz was 16 in 2002, when the Americans invaded Afghanistan and swept the Taliban from power. She said she remembers thinking, "This is the end of miseries of Afghanistan because U.S. is the superpower. When it arrives, that's it. It's the end of it."

  • She went back to school, got scholarships to attend American universities and, in 2013, returned to Afghanistan to serve in senior government roles.
  • She became Afghanistan's first female ambassador to the United Nations. Then, in July, Ghani appointed her as Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States. She moved with her two kids to Washington.
  • Her husband, Abdul Matin Bek, served as a top aide to Ghani back in Kabul.

Raz spent her first month in Washington pleading with the Biden administration — publicly and privately — to give stronger military support to the Afghan security services.

  • Then, in a head-spinning few weeks in early August, just a month after arriving in Washington, she lost her country and everything she'd worked for.
  • Raz told Axios that in the days before Aug. 15, her husband told her he'd noticed Ghani having meetings with just two of his top aides. He found the meetings unusually secretive.
  • "I was very sarcastic," Raz said. "I said, 'Oh, probably they're working on the evacuation plan.'" She was almost certainly right.

What's next: Raz, 35, now finds herself in an extraordinary situation.

  • The State Department and Pentagon canceled scheduled meetings with her in early September, she said, detailing the rebuffed requests. "By meeting me formally, probably they will legitimize the position, and that probably will upset the Taliban," she said.
  • Raz told Axios she had reached out to the Biden administration for guidance on the U.S. position regarding the Afghan embassy in D.C.
  • A State Department spokesperson responded: "Ambassador Adela Raz is the accredited representative of Afghanistan to the United States. A number of considerations factor into requests for meetings by any foreign ambassador. We are not in the position to comment on the particulars of U.S. diplomatic engagement."
  • "Given the change of leadership in Kabul, our focus in Afghanistan is on whether any future government is one we and the international community can work with."

One group that has reached out to Raz is the Taliban. She said they tried to get her and other ambassadors to join a Zoom call. She ignored the invitation.

  • Raz told Axios that under no circumstances would she serve a Taliban government. She knows what it's like to live under Taliban rules, and she feels "terrible" to think there may never be another woman to represent her country abroad.
  • "I didn't want to be the last one," she said. "I had agreed to be the first one, but not the last one."

📺 Watch: Ambassador Raz speaks about President Biden's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

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