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Former Canadian Ambassador To Afghanistan On Efforts Protect Kabul's Vulnerable


For so many people in the U.S. and other countries who have worked closely with Afghans, an overwhelming worry right now is how to protect them, how to help them reach safety. Well, Chris Alexander is one of those people trying to help. He's a former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan and former deputy special representative of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He has joined with some other diplomats in an independent push to evacuate Afghans who may be vulnerable to Taliban retribution. He's here now. Chris Alexander, welcome.

CHRIS ALEXANDER: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

KELLY: Tell us what exactly you're trying to do, who exactly you're trying to help.

ALEXANDER: Well, trying to ensure that those who are vulnerable in this situation are out of harm's way. And that includes, as a priority, people the Taliban are likely to target in for summary execution. We've seen it happen in Kandahar. We've heard about it and seen it in other provinces. And it's likely happening in Kabul tonight, either journalists, either human rights defenders, women's rights activists, some who worked in sensitive positions in police, in the army, the people that worked most closely with the government and with us as Afghanistan's international partners. They know that they are on kill lists. And if they don't get out, and if they don't - there's a much more concerted effort to protect them, I worry very deeply for the next few weeks and beyond.

KELLY: Can you tell us one story of one person who's reached out who you're trying to help, one story that will stick with you?

ALEXANDER: Well, one family in Lashkar Gah in the south of Afghanistan, where British forces were for a long time, from an ethnic minority, young man from the family is in Kabul. He was in a prominent position. He was a youth leader. His family had to leave home. Taliban took it over, his uncle taken into custody by the Taliban, probably tortured, put on notice that the worst may be yet to come. And they're looking for him. He came to Kabul to be safe in Kabul. But now the Taliban are all over Kabul. So what do we do for this young man who put his hopes in the future of his country and in a future that never should have included the Taliban?

KELLY: If you can get these people out, whether it's this young man or the others you're trying to help, where do they go? Where would you evacuate them to?

ALEXANDER: Well, that is the question. Beyond Canada's generous offer of 20,000 refugees to be resettled, we haven't seen large numbers proposed by other countries that usually resettle refugees. The United States is usually very prominent in this role. Apart from a larger effort to help interpreters and those who worked directly with U.S. forces, we haven't seen the U.S. pulling its weight and certainly not European countries. So we need to work on that capacity side and ensure there's more generosity. In the meantime, we need places for planes to land. And it's ironic, but some of the smallest countries of Europe so far are making the biggest gestures - Kosovo and North Macedonia. Albania are offering to take a certain number. We're working on other partners who might be willing to do that, including Ukraine.

KELLY: We just have less than a minute left. But what about Pakistan's role here? And I'm asking in part because I know you have been very critical of Pakistan. You've suggested the prime minister should be tried for war crimes for Pakistan's role. What would be a constructive role for Pakistan to play here? Is it opening its borders, letting people in?

ALEXANDER: They're not going to play a constructive role. They've shut their borders. And those who oppose the Taliban are being persecuted inside Pakistan. We have to be realistic. The world needs to come to terms with the fact that this was not a Taliban takeover. This was a Pakistani invasion. This was organized by Pakistan's intelligence service, ordered by their generals. And it's been going on for 40 years. That's why there has been war for so long because no one in the international community has held Pakistan to account in the way we did Vladimir Putin when he invaded Ukraine, for example.

KELLY: Thank you. I'll you there. And we're going to - I'll note we have invitations out to Pakistani officials to come on and respond to some of those things you're saying. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

KELLY: Former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, Chris Alexander. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.