An Afghan official laments what is lost and looks ahead to what lies ahead

The most haunting thing for Ahmad Nader Nadery about the final hours before the Taliban seized power in Kabul were the words of a police officer, exhausted after a stressful night, who urged him to secure a deal. peace.

“It’s too much,” said the officer. “We need to end this.”

One of Afghanistan’s top negotiators in peace talks with the Taliban, Nadery flew to Qatar in the early morning hours of August 15, in a last-ditch effort to figure out a transition of power. a peaceful way. Taliban forces have took control of most of the countryUS forces are retreating and fears are growing of a bloody attack on the capital, Kabul.

But Mr. Nadery is still working on a plan. President Ashraf Ghani eventually agreed to step down and hand power over to the loya jirga, a traditional council of elders. The Taliban were persuaded to withdraw the units that had infiltrated the capital.

“As far as I know, it’s still a few weeks away from the deal being completed,” Mr Nadery said.

But when he arrived in Doha that night, the president fled from Kabul and The Taliban took capital.

“It was the most crucifixion,” Mr. Nadery recalls. “Everything will fall apart, everything we’ve worked and built for the last 20 years.”

A human rights and democracy activist, and more recently a government official, Mr. Nadery, 46, has spent his career building organizations in Afghanistan and training professionals to run them. , always with one goal in mind: to help save the country from the cycle of coups and military takeovers that have long kept Afghanistan from prospering.

“Every one of these changes through military force pushes the country back half a century,” he said. “It undermines the ability of the state to build itself and suffering is prolonged.”

As he frantically exits his plane the day Kabul falls, he agonizes over the fate of his fellow employees of the Civil Service Commission he heads, some of whom have just helped compile a damning report. curse about the Taliban destroying public infrastructure.

“There are a lot of great people doing a lot of great work,” he said in a phone interview earlier this month from the Netherlands. “Some of the most capable female directors I’ve had, they’re national showrunners, world-class people.”

Born in the southwestern province of Nimruz to a prominent Pashtun family and educated in Kabul, Mr. Nadery lived through the tumultuous times of the civil war while attending high school in the early 1990s. As a student law at Kabul University when the Taliban first imposed their draconian rule in the late 1990s, he was detained and tortured for three months for his activism.

After the US-led invasion in 2001, he was at the forefront of promoting democratic change. He is an observer at a conference in Bonn, Germany, on the shape of a post-Taliban government, and a representative at subsequent meetings agreed on a roadmap and Constitution to govern Afghanistan.

He went on to serve as a trustee of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and founded the Afghanistan Forum for Free and Fair Elections, an independent monitoring organization.

He joined Mr. Ghani’s administration, eventually serving as chairman of the Civil Service Commission, where he first introduced a national merit-based appointment system in Afghanistan. In 2020, he joins negotiators on Afghanistan peace process.

Patricia Gossman, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, who worked closely with Mr. Nadery on mapping 30 years of human rights abuses in Afghanistan, said he was one of the few who found that the extent of the country’s trauma and loss over the decades can only be remedied by reconciliation.

“He understood better than most of that aspect of the conflict,” she said. “He had that insight and probably brought that into the negotiations.”

He tried, he said, but he soon realized that the Taliban, intent on military victory, were not serious about negotiating a peace deal. The United States negotiated directly with the Taliban, without involving Afghan officials, achieving a withdrawal agreement was signed in Doha in February 2020.

That encouraged the Taliban and allowed them to ignore peace talks with the Afghan government, he said. He told the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad so much, but he’s stuck with the process, hoping to at least preserve some of the gains he’s made over the past 20 years.

On August 12, after the nine provincial capitals had fallen, Mr. Nadery learned that the president had agreed to resign and he was informed to prepare for a meeting with the Taliban in Doha on August 17 to hand it over. .

Mr. Nadery knows the government has very little leverage in the negotiations. There were no longer any questions about power sharing, but he was present in a phone call with the Taliban as they discussed who would attend the festival.

He still hopes for reassurance on a range of principles: an ethnically diverse government; Bill of rights, including women’s rights, enshrined in the 2004 Constitution and elections.

“This will be the foundation of a future that we can build and grow again,” he said. “That’s my greatest hope.”

Mr. Ghani’s flight from the country on August 15 dashed that hope. “The president has centralized power to such an extent, that it reduces decision-making for some individuals in the palace, to the point where there is no system left when they flee,” Mr. Nadery said.

In months of negotiations, the Taliban negotiators had never shown any interest in transitional arrangements, he reflected. When they took over, he saw his fears come true: services shut down, systems disrupted, the Constitution and an entire legislative body built over 20 years old. remove.

“Revolutionaries are in power,” he said.

Since then, he has experienced mixed emotions, including anger at Mr Ghani for running away and frustration at what he sees as his own share of responsibility for his government’s failure. government.

“People have a right to be angry with all of us in decision-making positions,” he said. “I feel partially responsible for that and I feel pain, perhaps for the rest of my life, for that fact.”

Even so, he said, he hoped that his public good service “could be fairly judged.”

He attributed much of the economic crisis dragging the country not to the US asset freeze, as many have complained, but to the Taliban’s lack of preparation and failure to enforce legal rules in a consistent manner. shop.

“The economy depends on the rule of law,” he said.

The Taliban also show little capacity or interest in dealing with drought and getting hungry he said is causing Afghanistan. He called on the West to insist that the Taliban lift restrictions on women and girls in exchange for the lack of some support and provide aid through Afghan NGOs instead of the regime. new until the Taliban gained some popular legitimacy.

“The Taliban must begin to be accepted by the general public,” he said. “There must be representative leaders who won’t be in power for life, who are elected by the people, survey after survey shows the people want that.”

“One thing that makes me cautiously hopeful,” Mr. Nadery said, is “young people on the street.”

As for himself, when he faced his own demons in exile, he missed Kabul.

“I long to be there,” he said. “I’ve read books about life in exile, and now I see how painful it is.”

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