“What could we have done so wrong?” For months, the Hispanic-British Charlemagne Gómez, dedicated for 15 years to the development of countries in conflict or post-conflict situations through what experts call “inclusive democratic governance” has been wondering: that is, the strengthening of the institutions of a rule of law (if there is one) or social inclusion. In other words, “everything that does not exist in Afghanistan, Libya or South Sudan despite attempts to establish a democracy there,” says Gomez.
Gómez receives every day new requests for help from Afghanistan, whether from deputies of minority ethnic groups in the old parliament, former workers in United Nations; former officials with middle positions or young human rights activists.
Through letters to leaders and institutions, efforts with senior officials of supranational organizations or even contacts with private air transport companies, Gómez strives to help these Afghans by managing visas that allow them to leave the country.
As the days go by, things get complicated. Iran keeps its land borders closed and Pakistan only issues medical or transit visas for the evacuation of foreigners and Afghans working for international organizations …
Yes, it is not easy. To leave you must have the documentation in order, not only a visa, but also a valid passport. Many Afghans do not have it and right now the offices that issue them are closed. Before August 31, thousands of them were evacuated by NATO countries. Others crossed the border and went to the embassies of third countries such as India, which chartered several planes to take out their nationals and collaborators. However, right now the air route has become very complicated due to the issue of airports.
What we do know is that the Taliban government has announced that they will allow several planes that were stranded at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport with people who were waiting to leave Afghanistan, as long as they have the documentation in place. order. Efforts are being made to have more flights, but right now we have no more information to share.
What about the 3,000 Afghans who work for the United Nations and still want to leave?
They worry us a lot. Afghanistan drank from the UN and NGOs. We are actually talking about 3,000 people. As nationals that they are, the UN does not contemplate evacuating them insofar as they in theory continue to work on the ground. However, given the circumstances, many want to leave. Most are afraid and believe that they will not get their job back, unless in the short term. In addition, non-governmental organizations have evacuated all their staff, including locals who worked as cooks and cleaners. We must support all those people who have always been so proud to work at the United Nations.
You mention that many Afghans did not have documentation during the evacuations. In Spain or Arab Emirates have been made security screening as the planes landed. What is the risk that undesirable people have infiltrated?
The risk exists. With the chaos of those days, Afghans were evacuated without papers, but even the Taliban had checkpoints every few kilometers to check the documentation. There are people we have not reached, but they are a minority. We must contrast this information a lot because it contributes to the rejection of refugees. In Europe we have seen terrorist attacks carried out by highly radicalized and born here citizens. That is why we must be fair to people who come from outside. The vast majority do need help.
But there are countries that are not willing to offer it …
Exactly. Some European countries have only removed a few dozen people. Others, such as the United Arab Emirates, offered their airports for several days so that evacuation planes could park there, but nothing is known about the quota of refugees they have admitted or what they will do in the medium term.
On the other hand, Pakistan or Iran have historically taken on the vast majority of refugees. Take, for example, another case, that of Syrian refugees. Neighbors such as Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey were the ones that welcomed a greater number of them. It seemed that they were going to reach Europe, Greece or Hungary, but the reality is that it was others who absorbed a greater number if we take into account the proportion between their population and that of the newcomers.
What is your balance after working as a donor and then how to consult the UN and the EU?
What I can tell you is that the three sectors are suspicious of each other and that must be fought. In my case if I had known when I started what I know today I would have done things differently. As an aid worker I learned a lot in various NGOs, but when I developed advocacy projects or evaluated electoral processes for United Nations or EU agencies, I realized the enormous impact it could have not only at the national level, but also internationally. Their ability to influence is very important, their access to information is far superior to that of any NGO and that attracted me a lot. However, I insist that the challenge is for both NGOs and UN and EU agencies to work in a coordinated way to achieve the same objectives, which is not always the case, as has been demonstrated in Afghanistan.
The Americans always prioritized their own in security matters …
Yes. An example is the legislative elections of 2014 when high-ranking Afghan politicians rigged the election results and ignored the true will of the electorate. We as the international community accept the endemic corruption of Afghanistan’s political system for fear of losing control over security. We accepted it and did not do enough to combat impunity. The electoral system, that is, democracy, was rejected by a few to reach or stay in power.
Like the millions of dollars that left the country every day in the suitcases of senior Afghan officials or their families. According to US investigators, more than 3 billion dollars flew in just three years through the Kabul airport …
That is just one example. Despite all the money and the deaths of so many soldiers, especially Afghans, we do not demand the same level of accountability. In the case of the Afghan government, it never fully committed itself and we were weak. They beat us in all the negotiations and we gave them millions and millions of dollars …
There were also foreign contractors who left Afghanistan being billionaires …
Yes, a few. There were also expatriates who went to the country to pursue a career or to add to their bank accounts. In my case, I can tell you that there were many of us who loved Afghanistan and were passionate about what we did. That is why we stayed a few years and many of us have remained linked.
Could you imagine a tremendous ending like the one signed last year in Doha between the Trump Administration and the Taliban?
We never wanted to think that this could happen, but it has happened at full speed, almost with the permission of the international community. It’s incomprehensible. It seems that everything was agreed in advance.
How do you feel after seeing the disaster at the exit?
A huge frustration. In 2010 I decided that I no longer wanted to continue in Afghanistan, mainly because of the security issue, although afterwards I have returned several times. In fact, in the last four years I have worked on several projects. Today I fight so that those people, who have contributed so much and from whom we have learned so much, can get out of there. If we don’t, it will all have been in vain, it will have been useless. If we succeed, at least we will have saved those with whom we have worked. We can’t save the country, but our people, we can.