Two men, from different parts of the world and 30 years apart, were united in a foreign country with nothing in common except Lancaster University.
In the summer of 2021, the Taliban, re-claimed Kabul, the centre and heart of Afghanistan. With little resistance, their forces rapidly swept across the country with significant ease and overnight, they were in power, transforming the world on the 15th August.
Such a sudden takeover caused widespread fear and panic with recollections of their previous autocratic regime in the 1990s that saw the extreme abuse of human and political rights, particularly that of women’s rights.
Assured these practices would likely be imposed in the future despite their public statements of respect for civil and political rights, an evacuation process of both Afghani and foreign citizens as well as the withdrawal of US and NATO forces was conducted with immediate effect. Known as the ‘Kabul airlift,’ it is considered one of the largest operations in history, moving well over 100,000 people out of the country.
One of these refugees, fleeing his home country, was Lancaster University Graduate, Aziz Amin. Qualifying with an MA in Conflict, Development and Security in 2017, he was working as Special Secretary and Personal Assistant for President Ghani, the now former President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Having previously set up the ‘Humans of Afghanistan’ social media page in 2015 and as the founder of the Afghan Youth Empowerment Council, Aziz Amin publicly wrote on political and security issues within South Asia and the Middle East.
During this role, Amin met another Lancaster graduate, Dr Greg Mills. Mills graduated from Lancaster University in 1990 with an MA in International Relations and Strategic Studies and a PhD in Politics. He has since headed up the Brenthurst Foundation that is based in South Africa, supporting its development and economic performance.
During February 2021, Mills had been visiting Afghanistan, carrying out research for a book. He’d been residing at the Presidential Palace as a guest of President Ghani.
It was during this residential that Mills met Aziz who was part of a team formed to ensure Mills’ stay was pleasant. It wasn’t long before they discovered their shared alma mater within the Department of Politics and International Relations at Lancaster University.
In an interview with STEPS, Dr Mills noted that “there was an immediate degree of trust.” Two men, from different parts of the world and 30 years apart, were united in a foreign country with nothing in common except Lancaster University.
Their connection became a significant advantage when Dr Mills, who was in Afghanistan for another visit to the President in July, contacted Aziz in August to assure his safety when the Taliban took control.
Unfortunately, due to his work for the Government and Western allies, Aziz had been forced into hiding for fear of retribution. It was then that Mills used his contacts to help Aziz escape Afghanistan, successfully securing his evacuation along with thousands of other citizens.
If it had not been for their close connection through Lancaster University, Aziz’s story may have be extremely different.