Health

Former Afghan president says he fled nation to ‘save Kabul’

Ghani, speaking to the BBC in an interview broadcast on
Thursday — his first interview since he fled — said his sudden departure was
the “hardest” decision he made. He noted that even in the hours before he
boarded a helicopter and was spirited out of the country, he did not know it
would be his last day in his homeland.

The Taliban had largely surrounded Kabul and panic gripped
the city when Ghani, along with his wife and close associates, fled on the
afternoon of Aug 15.

Ghani told BBC’s Radio 4 that if he had taken “a stand,” the
presidential palace security guards would have been killed.

“And they were not capable of defending me,” he added.

“Two different factions of the Taliban were closing in from
two different directions,” Ghani explained. “And the possibility of a massive
conflict between them that would destroy the city of 5 million and bring havoc
to the people was enormous.”

The decision to leave was frenzied, he said, and he was not
given “more than two minutes” to get ready for the flight out of the country.

More than three months later, he is well aware of the
criticisms from many corners that he abandoned his nation when he was needed
most.

“My life work has been destroyed,” he said. “My values had
been trampled on. And I have been made a scapegoat.” But he once again defended
his actions.

“I had to sacrifice myself in order to save Kabul,” he said.
The Taliban took full control of Kabul hours after Ghani’s escape and the
collapse of his security forces. Three days later, Ghani resurfaced in the
United Arab Emirates, where he has been living since then.

Ghani said the initial plan was to leave Kabul for Khost, a
province in southeastern Afghanistan, where CIA-backed militiamen, known as the
Khost Protection Force, were based. But the plan changed because Khost had
already fallen to the Taliban.

See also  'Bat Out of Hell' singer Meat Loaf dies aged 74

Ghani also denied accusations that he stole millions of
dollars while fleeing the country.

The former Afghan president was interviewed on BBC by Gen
Sir Nick Carter, former chief of the British armed forces, in an edited radio
broadcast. Carter, who served multiple tours as a commander in Afghanistan
between 2002 and 2013, has previously described his relationship with Ghani as
“very close” and he had been involved, before the country’s collapse, in
diplomatic efforts to restart peace negotiations between the Taliban and the
Afghan government.

In the interview, Ghani expanded on an apology, written in
English, that he posted on Twitter in September. At the time, his apology was
not received warmly by Afghans who were enraged by his sudden escape. Some
accused him of betraying a nation and a country he had led for nearly eight
years.

The Taliban’s new government has shown little interest in
adopting the achievements of the past two decades. It has imposed restrictions
on free press and women’s rights, and marginalised minorities.

The Taliban have also summarily executed or forcibly
disappeared dozens of the former government’s security forces since they seized
power in August, according to reports by human rights groups.

Afghanistan’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Millions
of Afghans do not have enough to eat, and 1 million children could starve to
death this winter.

This all could have been avoided if Ghani had not abandoned
Afghans in a very critical moment, and agreed to an orderly transition of
power, experts and some Western officials said.

Critics have blamed Ghani for the current economic crisis in
Afghanistan, saying his decision to flee the country derailed a last-ditch deal
that could have prevented a complete takeover of the government by the Taliban
and the sanctions that came after.

But Ghani criticised the United States for negotiating
directly with the Taliban without involving the Afghan government, saying the
release of thousands of Taliban prisoners — part of the deal — emboldened the
insurgents, who ultimately overthrew his government.

See also  Barca trio test positive for COVID-19

“I was painted in total black,” he said, adding that the
Afghan government was never given a chance to negotiate directly with the
Taliban. “Ambassador Khalilzad sat down with them,” he said, referring to Zalmay
Khalilzad, the American former peace envoy. “It became an American issue. Not
an Afghan issue.”

“They erased us,” he added.

The Afghan government and Taliban negotiators did meet
beginning in fall 2020 in Doha, Qatar, and established principles and procedures
to guide peace negotiations, but these talks quickly stalled after months of
bureaucratic hang-ups and escalating violence in Afghanistan.

One sticking point had been the Taliban’s demand that Ghani
step down as president to make way for a new government. But Ghani had refused,
insisting he was the country’s legitimate elected leader.

Khalilzad, who also spoke on the same radio show, rejected
Ghani’s statement, blaming him and the leaders of Afghan security forces for
the “failure” of the Afghan government and the collapse of its forces.

“There was an agreement that President Ghani had agreed to,
on Aug 15, that the Talibs would not go into Kabul,” Khalilzad told BBC Radio
4. In a phone conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the
evening of Aug 14, Ghani confirmed his agreement with a plan to take part in an
orderly transition of power at a legal assembly known as a loya jirga, which
was scheduled to take place on Aug. 30, according to Khalilzad.

“After agreeing to it, to everyone’s surprise, he and a few
others departed,” Khalilzad said.

Ghani, 72, spent over two decades of his life in the United
States, first as an anthropology student, then as a professor and a World Bank
employee. He returned to Afghanistan after 2001, working as the country’s
finance minister. He won the presidential election in 2014, and was reelected
in 2019. Both elections were marred by widespread fraud.

See also  Anger over Djokovic visa saga dominates conversations in Australia

His government was sidelined from the peace talks after the
Trump administration engaged directly with the Taliban, signing a deal with the
group in February 2020 that called for US troops to withdraw in 2022.

The Taliban intensified attacks on the former government’s
forces after President Joe Biden, under pressure from the deal, announced in
April that US forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by September. By early
summer, the insurgent group controlled more than half of the districts in
Afghanistan.

By late July, the government forces had lost control of the
entire rural countryside. In one of the most remarkable military campaigns, the
Taliban captured all 33 provincial capitals and Kabul, the nation’s capital, in
less than two weeks, without facing much resistance.

The Taliban’s lightning victory shocked many, including
Ghani, who had shown little interest in engaging in serious negotiations with
them.

Ghani departed Kabul in the early afternoon of Aug 15,
boarding helicopters parked at the presidential palace. The helicopters landed
in neighbouring Uzbekistan roughly two hours later. A chartered plane
transported him and his companions to the United Arab Emirates the next day.

Among those who fled alongside Ghani were his two most
trusted aides, Hamdullah Mohib, his national security adviser, and Fazel
Mahmood Fazly, the director of the president’s administrative office. Mohib and
Fazly were the most powerful officials after the president.

As the news of Ghani’s escape broke, dozens of government’s
officials, Cabinet ministers and generals flooded the airport, hoping to catch
a flight out of the country.

During the nearly eight years of his presidency, he had
centralised the power to such an extent that the entire system collapsed soon
after his departure, leaving behind a power vacuum, which the Taliban
immediately filled.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

Related Articles

Back to top button