In the heart of Midtown Manhattan, a poignant scene unfolded in August 2021, as the once vibrant Afghan mission to the UN drew its final breaths.
The sudden fall of Kabul to a Taliban offensive resulted in the collapse of Afghanistan's international diplomatic network, leaving Naseer Ahmad Faiq stunned and heartbroken at the bewildering speed at which the government he once represented unravelled.
With neither funds nor authority at his disposal, the 41-year-old UN envoy is striving to find purpose in his continuing efforts, seeking new ways to continue his mission despite the challenging circumstances.
Despite the departure of the diplomats who previously filled the now vacant chairs within the spacious Manhattan office, he remains steadfast.
In an interview with The National in New York, Mr Faiq, who had devoted his professional life to rebuilding Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion, never imagined that President Ashraf Ghani would “flee” and “abandon” his country and fellow citizens.
Recalling the fall of Kabul, his voice tinged with sadness, he said: “Ghani chose his self-interest rather than the national interest."
He was aware of the expectations from both the international community and the Taliban, explained Mr Faiq, and he should have accepted the interim government proposition put forth by Washington during talks in Doha in 2021.
Unfortunately, according to Mr Faiq, the former president insisted on completing his tenure at any cost.
Ashraf Ghani addresses Afghanistan from the UAE - video
“He should have stepped down for the sake of peace and safeguard the accomplishments of the past two decades," he said.
“He could have been a peace champion."
Salvaging a nation's future
In his January 2022 speech to the Security Council, Mr Faiq urged the world body to freeze and confiscate all Afghan assetsx “illegally transferred to the accounts of former government officials who were involved in corruption and embezzlement of international aid to the Afghan people".
“It is unfair that 28 million people are starving, and mothers sell their children to survive, but these corrupt former government officials live in luxurious houses and villas in different countries in Europe and the US,” he said.
Following his scathing attack, the Afghan diplomat received a call from one of the top Taliban leaders asking him to represent them at the UN.
As one of the few remaining diplomats representing Afghanistan on the global stage, his efforts to salvage his nation's future remains a solemn and challenging endeavour.
“There should be a united approach from the international community,” he stressed, praising UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for convening in May two days of closed-door talks for envoys to Afghanistan in Qatar to work on a unified approach to dealing with the Taliban authorities.
Taliban celebrate anniversary of withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan - in pictures
“His message was very clear that it's not about recognition of the Taliban, but it's about formation of a coherent and integrated approach," Mr Faiq said.
Forty years as hostages
Mr Faiq has been advocating global backing of diverse Afghan groups that are taking a stand against the Taliban, technocrats and warlords.
“These three groups … have taken hostage the people of Afghanistan for the past 40 years," he explained.
“They came and they fought over power and resources. It was never because of the people of Afghanistan. It was never because of the advancement and progress.”
When asked whether there was international support for alternative democratic and progressive movements, he responded with a succinct “no”.
“There are different Afghan groups outside and inside Afghanistan. They are fighting against the Taliban ideology and the way they are governed, and they are not happy with this situation,” he said.
“That's why the Taliban are so emboldened because they see there’s no alternative … there’s no appetite from the international community, there’s no political will … to remove the Taliban from power."
“The Ukraine crisis has really impacted the situation in an all conflict affected countries … I hope there will be a solution for an end to Ukraine crisis so that Security Council members can act in cohesion when it comes to Afghanistan,” he said.
Yet the Afghan diplomat is hopeful that a conference focused on the Central Asian nation, which may occur subsequent to the November 17 publication of an independent assessment led by the UN Secretary General, would genuinely factor in the interests of all stakeholders, especially the Afghan people.
National Resistance Front leader Ahmad Massoud calls for freedom and justice in Afghanistan - video
Led by the UAE and Japan, the Security Council approved in March a resolution calling for an independent assessment on the international approach to the country.
“As we continue to hear that there is a lack of a co-ordinated international political strategy for Afghanistan, the request for an independent assessment is to provide recommendations on how to ensure greater coherence and integration between the efforts of all the relevant actors – inside and outside the UN system – on Afghanistan,” the UAE's ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh told reporters after the vote.
Mr Faiq stressed that the Taliban, which initially sought to rebrand themselves as a moderate political movement, are currently carrying out a strategic manoeuvre, with the objective being to “exhaust the patience of the global community”. They believe that by prolonging this time frame, the chances of a gradual normalisation will increase.
Despite promising to form an inclusive government, the Taliban have monopolised power. Meanwhile, the threat of terrorism in the region has grown.
“In one or two years, we will see that there will be more threats emanating from Afghanistan, because of the presence … of more than 20 terrorist groups,” he explained.
He noted that the absence of overt conflict in the country does not necessarily equate to safety.
“It's the calm before the storm,” he said with a sigh.