Washington Welcomes a New Afghan Ambassador
Washington has become home for a new ambassador at the Afghan Embassy. On July 26, Ambassador Roya Rahmani officially passed the torch to her successor, Adela Raz. While new leadership at the Afghan mission in the United States is one of many changes in the countries’ relationship this summer, the message of a robust U.S.-Afghan alliance persists.
Roya Rahmani was the first woman to serve as the Afghan Ambassador to the United States, a position she held from 2018 to 2021. A Kabul-native, Rahmani spent much of her childhood navigating civil war as Soviet troops withdrew from the country and rival mujahidin forces descended on the Afghan capital. In an interview with NPR, Ambassador Rahmani said that her experience as a refugee in Pakistan, where her family fled in 1993, taught her to “make the best out of what you have.”
Rahmani made the best of her educational opportunities; she earned a scholarship to study software engineering in Canada and later received a master’s degree from Columbia University. After returning to Afghanistan to pursue a nonprofit career in human rights, Rahmani joined the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011, where she went on to serve as ambassador to Indonesia before her seminal appointment as envoy to the Afghan government’s biggest supporter.
A week into Ambassador Rahmani’s tenure in Washington, President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, cutting the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan in half. A year and a half later in 2020, the United States under President Trump negotiated an agreement with the Taliban, currently being implemented by the Biden administration, to withdraw all U.S. forces by 2021.
Throughout the United States’ gradual departure, Ambassador Rahmani was an outspoken advocate for continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. “We are hoping that with their [the United States’] support, we would be able to continue to protect and defend ourselves,” said the ambassador as she urged the international community not to “give up on their investment” in Afghanistan. In particular, the Afghan Ambassador expressed concern for how the gains made in women’s rights over the past two decades would be squandered by the possible collapse of the Afghan government in the face of the Taliban’s refusal to come to the negotiating table.
Adela Raz, the new Afghan Ambassador to the United States, also obtained a master’s degree in the United States and chose to return to Kabul for work despite warnings from friends and family. “I told myself, if I want to save this sinking boat, I need to be on board,” recalled Ambassador Raz about her decision to join the Afghan government.
Like Rahmani, Raz was a part of the pioneering handful of Afghan women to break the diplomatic glass ceiling and occupy high-level government positions. From 2018 to 2021, Raz was the first woman to serve as the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, where she used her platform to garner international support for protecting the rights of women in Afghan society in the wake of the Taliban’s military advances.
Whereas Ambassador Rahmani entered the government through the Ministry of Education, Ambassador Raz began in the Office of the President and maintained close relations with the country’s leader throughout her career. After serving as the first female Director of Communication for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Raz became Chief of Staff for his successor, President Ashraf Ghani. As Taliban troops tighten their stranglehold over Afghanistan, Ambassador Raz’s ties to the presidency, in addition to Kabul’s desire to turn the page on allegations of misappropriated construction funds that have plagued the Afghan Embassy in Washington for over a year, might have proved critical to President Ghani’s decision to appoint a new leader at the embassy.
Indeed, Raz’s appointment comes at a time when pressure is mounting on President Ghani’s government from all directions. The Taliban continue their attack on Herat, the country’s third-largest city, in the west and the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah in the south, after successfully capturing transit and trade corridors into Central Asia along Afghanistan’s northern border. Kabul is likewise a vulnerable target for Taliban expansion; a bomb, followed by gunfire, demolished the Acting Defense Minister’s house on August 3 in an attack claimed by the Taliban in Kabul’s supposedly highly secure Green Zone.
Unity within the Afghan government is paramount as NATO troops depart and more territory succumbs to Taliban control. The arrival of Raz in Washington signifies Kabul’s commitment to closing the gender gap in government representation and fortifying a resilient U.S.-Afghan relationship in the post-withdrawal period. As a member of President Ghani’s inner circle, Ambassador Raz will likely be privy to a direct line with the executive — a privilege that the departing ambassador struggled to attain during her time at the embassy. Close communication between Kabul and Afghanistan’s envoy in Washington furthers the Biden administration’s goals of overcoming internal Afghan government disputes to focus on advancing peace negotiations with combative leaders.
As ambassador, Raz is in a position to push forward peace talks alongside American counterparts. “I was raised and born in war. We all understand what exactly it means to lose your beloved one. So, we are ready to end this conflict, to end this war,” said the new ambassador in response to U.S. negotiations with the Taliban last year.
Image Source: Ahmad Masood/Reuters