The Taliban are trying to establish their control over Afghan institutions, but there is a big gray area. Most of the country’s approximately 70 diplomatic missions still in operation do so independently of the radical regime – which is not recognized by other countries – and without any direct funding from Kabul. BBC’s Zubair Ahmed reports from Delhi.
Visitors to the Afghan Embassy in the Indian capital – located in a sprawling compound in the heart of the city’s diplomatic enclave – are greeted with a photo of former President Ashraf Ghani as they enter the building. Mr Ghani fled Afghanistan last August as the Taliban moved closer to the capital after the collapse of his government, which had been backed by the West.
His photo also hangs on the wall of Ambassador Farid Mamundzay’s office, which still flies the black, red and green tricolor of the republic that Mr Ghani led.
“We have little coordination with the Taliban,” says Mr Mamundzay, whose staff continue to perform functions such as issuing visas and passports on behalf of the republic they were appointed to serve.
In the 10 months since coming to power, the Taliban has only sent ambassadors to four countries: Russia, Pakistan, China and Turkmenistan. But even these countries have not granted formal diplomatic recognition to the new Afghan leadership.
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The Indian government allowed the Delhi embassy to operate as an extension of the previous government, as it did during the last Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001 – the embassy then continued to represent the government of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Despite the change in who holds power in Kabul, Mamundzay says the embassy still follows the rules and policies of the former government that appointed him.
“We still represent the old republic, our old democracy. We don’t take orders from [the Taliban],” he says.
While the Taliban want to resume the functioning of Afghan missions around the world, they have not succeeded, in part for lack of money. Afghanistan’s economy has been in freefall since they took power – foreign aid has dried up and the country’s assets have been frozen as the international community tied funds to progress on issues such as human rights and the treatment of women.
Mamundzay also said the Delhi embassy and most of its counterparts in other countries have said they will only accept regime control on one condition: the Taliban must first form a government. national inclusive, diverse and granting fundamental rights to women.
Immediately after coming to power, the Taliban indicated that they might take a softer approach to women’s rights. But in recent months he has taken several sweeping measures, including forcing women to wear the veil.
Last week, after more than 1,000 people were killed in the deadliest earthquake to hit Afghanistan in two decades, dozens of Afghan expats crowded into the embassy garden in Delhi – some had come to do their papers, others were eager to hear from them.
Mr Mamundzay says his embassy continues to issue and renew visas and passports in the name of the former republic – which is, crucially, honored by the Taliban authorities.
“[Even] Taliban leaders travel with republic passports,” he said, as countries do not recognize passports and other documents issued by the Taliban.
While the number of people traveling from India to Afghanistan has dropped significantly since the Taliban took over, many still make the trip to visit family or get their papers in place.
The Afghan Embassy in Delhi estimates that around 100,000 Afghan citizens live in India – of these, according to the Ambassador, some 30,000 to 35,000 are Afghan refugees and nearly 15,000 are students.
The embassy and consulates in the cities of Hyderabad and Mumbai do not operate in a vacuum – they are in daily contact with the consular division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul regarding paperwork for Afghan citizens, including marriage and divorce certificates, and the issuance of birth and death certificates.
Another issue that requires close coordination with the Taliban is humanitarian aid.
“India sent aid to Kabul following the earthquake. We had to coordinate with the Foreign Ministry in Kabul,” he says.
Mamundzay says revenue from Afghan missions in India has dropped significantly since the overthrow of the Ghani government.
“There was a time when we had 10 to 15 weekly flights to Kabul from here. There was a lot of trade. We were fully involved and busy. It’s not there anymore. Revenues have fallen by 80%,” he says.
The situation is also similar in other countries. In May, the United States took control of the Afghan embassy in Washington DC and its consulates in New York and Los Angeles because the missions faced “severe financial constraints that made continued operations unsustainable. “.
In India, Mr. Mamundzay and his team count on every penny to continue the missions.
In Delhi, the embassy owns the main building and staff quarters, which saves on rent. They also earn money through consular work, such as visa fees.
He adds that the 21 Afghan diplomats in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad have suffered major pay cuts.
“We work for our homeland, for democracy. It’s a small price to pay.”