An Ambassador Without a Country

An Ambassador Without a Country

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Late on this August morning, Rassoul knotted his trademark bow tie, ordered his driver to take him to Princes Gate, and walked into the light rain glistening on the pavement. His conversations over the previous days seemed to have lightened his mood a bit, and he wanted to check on the Embassy, although he hadn’t received any new instructions. He was wearing a black wool coat and a circa-1925 Afghan lapel pin, a bas-relief of a lion’s head framed by the national colors and clearly visible as he walked up the steps to the entrance. He inserted a key after finding only a plastic bag covering the lock. No one else was there. As he returned to his car, he said he was confident that the “voice of the people of Afghanistan” would one day be heard.

King Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan achieved many milestones for his country in 1919 when it gained independence from Great Britain. One initiative of his reformation of Afghanistan was purchasing a four-story mid-Victorian edifice at Princes Gate in London, across Kensington Road from Hyde Park. His efforts to introduce reforms such as compulsory education and modernization of Afghan society led to a violent resistance, resulting in him fleeing Kabul in a Rolls-Royce.

In 2020, President Ashraf Ghani appointed the late king’s nephew, Zalmai Rassoul, as the Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland. After only one year, in June 2021, Ghani fled Kabul as the Taliban stormed dozens of Afghan district capitals, as part of their escalating offensive against the Islamic Republic.

Under such trying circumstances, Rassoul stayed in London as the Taliban took over the government, even though neither the United Nations nor any of its member states formally recognize the Islamic Emirate, due to the regime having seized power by force. In 2021, the British Foreign Office informed Rassoul that he could carry on as Ambassador, and since then he has worked to develop a plan for the future with fellow Republic-era Ambassadors.

Rassoul has been a leader in Afghanistan from the Republic era who remains noncontroversial, being an educated doctor and having worked as a medical researcher in Saudi Arabia during the 1980s. His plans for the future involve intra-Afghan dialogue and he visits other embassies in London to demonstrate to the people of Afghanistan that he still stands as a representative for their country.

To carry out his mission, Rassoul moves around between his Embassy apartment overlooking Hyde Park, an office on the ground floor, other London embassies, and his golf course. Though when alone and working, he admits to being “intellectually frustrated,” Rassoul is extremely optimistic about the potential changes of the future. He believes that the “voice of the people of Afghanistan” will soon be heard.

The Taliban remains an uncertain presence, especially in regards to their human rights policies. It is evident that worsening restrictions on female education and work rights have benefited them in no way, however. In Geneva, the Taliban were excluded from a recent session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the London Embassy still issues travel visas, passports, birth certificates, and marriage certificates, all of which are recognized by the Taliban.

It is anyone’s guess what will happen in the future of Afghanistan, but Ambassador Rassoul remains dedicated to fighting for the people and working towards making a positive change. Despite all the challenges that lie ahead, Zalmai Rassoul still stands strong as the Afghan people’s Ambassador in London

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