Lancaster 'Bond' Led To Dramatic Kabul Escape - Two Alumni Tell Their Story

Aziz Amin

A relationship forged between two men in Kabul through their Lancaster University alumni bond resulted in what they describe as a race against the clock for survival.

Aziz Amin (MA Conflict, Development and Security 2017, Graduate) was working as Special Secretary and Personal Assistant of President Ghani (President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) in the first half of 2021, when he met Dr Greg Mills (MA International Relations & Strategic Studies, 1986, PhD Politics, 1990, Fylde).

Visiting Afghanistan in February to complete research for a book, Dr Mills stayed at the Presidential Palace as a personal guest of President Ghani. Aziz was involved in ensuring his stay was comfortable, and through their regular conversations, the two men discovered their shared link to Lancaster as former students in the Department of Politics and International Relations, albeit 30 years apart. Dr Mills said of their meeting, “There was an immediate degree of trust established because of our common experience at Lancaster University. We were a South African and a young Afghan with nothing to bind us but that. We had an immediate connection and I knew I would keep an eye out for him in future.” The two men connected and remained in touch.

Aziz was involved in the arrangements for Dr Mills’ second trip to Kabul in July of 2021 when he was visiting the President again with his friend and colleague, the former President of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Dr Mills, who served in Afghanistan in 2006 as an advisor to General Sir David Richards and later General Sir Nick Carter, and is now Director of the Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa, told STEPS in an interview that when he was in Kabul in July 2021 he “had a sense it was all going to come crumbling down”, but had not expected the situation to escalate so quickly. During the events of August 2021, he contacted Aziz to ask if he was safe. Dr Mills told us, “I felt an affinity with him, we had studied on the same course. We’d been to the same university and that brings an immediate sense of trust.”

According to Aziz, he was in hiding after the President’s departure from the country and was having to constantly change his location, due to a fear of retribution on account of his work for the unseated government and its Western allies.

Wanting to help Aziz, Dr Mills described how he reached out to his contacts and put in place an exceptionally complex plan to secure his evacuation, a process that required several attempts and a lot of organisation amidst great insecurity. Dr Mills spoke of the key steps that needed to take place: to get to the airport, then to get into the airport, next to board a plane and finally to get to a safe destination for the long term.

Aziz’s evacuation was achieved, and Dr Mills and his friends went on to use the system they had devised to help over a thousand more people to safety.

Aziz spoke of his experience, commenting, “I left my country with a heavy heart. Afghanistan: a country, my country and one that I love dearly; a land that gave birth to me and people who raised me were being left behind. It was as if half my heart was being torn apart. My departure was hard and the feelings and emotions were both unbearable and indescribable.

“However, throughout these times, one of the things that has brought a smile to my face and some happiness is Dr Mills and the thought that had I not met him as I had done, my fate might have been different. “I am certain that I would not have secured my evacuation without Dr Mills and his friends. To them, I will remain forever indebted. May God bless them and all those who helped, and may He place me in a position that I, too, may one day be able to extend a helping hand to someone in need.

“I also owe Lancaster a great thanks for making, unknowingly, this remarkable connection across generations and geographies.”

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