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Fleeing Afghan President Breaks Silence, Says He Was Forced Out Against His Will

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Fleeing Afghan President Breaks Silence, Says He Was Forced Out Against His Will

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he left Kabul to prevent bloodshed as he denied reports he took large sums of money with him as he departed the presidential palace. 

Ghani, who confirmed he was in the United Arab Emirates, said he was in ‘consultation’ to return to Afghanistan after he met a barrage of bitter criticism by former ministers for leaving the country suddenly as Taliban forces entered the capital on Sunday.

But the United States – Ghani’s most important ally – reiterated today that it did not see Ghani as a player in the region, after the ousted president vowed to return.

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‘He is no longer a figure in Afghanistan,’ Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters as she declined to comment on the United Arab Emirates’ decision to grant him asylum.

Speaking from exile today, in his first public comment since it was confirmed he was in the UAE, Ghani said he had left on the advice of government officials, telling viewers through a video streamed on Facebook: ‘If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul.’

Ghani said that he had been attempting to stop Afghanistan turning ‘into another Yemen of Syria‘, and he insisted allegations that he had left the country with a large amount of money were ‘baseless’ and ‘lies’.

Reports had earlier suggested that Ghani fled with $169million in his cash-stuffed helicopter and has been given asylum in Dubai on ‘humanitarian grounds’.

He said there was no truth to allegations that he escaped with ‘suitcases of cash’, saying it was all part of a ‘personality assassination’. 

Ghani said on Wednesday that he hopes to return home, after fleeing to the United Arab Emirates in the face of the Taliban’s rapid advance, and said he supported talks between the Taliban and top former officials.

‘For now, I am in the Emirates so that bloodshed and chaos is stopped,’ he said in a video message – his first appearance since leaving the capital on Sunday. He noted he had ‘no intention’ to remain in exile.

‘I am currently in talks to return to Afghanistan.’

The United Arab Emirates announced earlier in the day that it was hosting Ghani ‘on humanitarian grounds’.

In his message posted to Facebook, Ghani added that he supports talks between the Taliban and top former government officials, after it emerged that Taliban members had met with former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who headed the failed peace process.

Taliban leaders have said they have ‘pardoned all former government officials’, according to the monitoring group SITE.

Ghani succeeded Karzai as leader of Afghanistan in 2014.

Mr Ghani told a Facebook live broadcast, according to the translation by Al Jazeera: ‘What had happened 25 years ago in Afghanistan was going to take place again. That was something that needed to be avoided, a shameful development like that.

‘The dignity of Afghanistan was important for me, and that was to be ensured, so I had to leave Afghanistan in order to present bloodshed, in order to make sure that a huge disaster (was) prevented.’

He said: ‘When it comes to the political leadership of the Taliban, it was a failure on their part and a failure on our part that the negotiations did not lead to anything, the peace process should lead to the end of war.’

He added: ‘Currently I am in the UAE so that disasters are avoided. I’m in consultation with others until I (can) return so that I can continue my efforts for justice for the Afghans.’

The address comes as witnesses said at least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday as the Islamist group moved to consolidate power – and Western countries ramped up evacuations from a chaotic Kabul airport.

The new government may take the form of a ruling council, with Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in overall charge, a senior member of the group said.

But Afghanistan would not be a democracy, Waheedullah Hashimi told Reuters: ‘It is sharia law and that is it.’

After seizing power at the weekend, the Taliban promised peaceful rule. They said they would not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

A protest in Jalalabad, 90 miles from Kabul on the main road to Pakistan, was an early test of that commitment.

Two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters that Taliban fighters had opened fire when local residents tried to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city, killing three people and injuring more than a dozen.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately reachable for comment.

Thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped U.S.-led foreign forces in the two decades since an invasion ended the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, are desperate to leave the country.

Taliban commanders and soldiers fired into the air to disperse crowds outside Kabul airport, a Taliban official said. ‘We have no intention to injure anyone,’ he told Reuters.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, who left the country as Taliban fighters seized control, is in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf state said.

About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been evacuated from Kabul in the last 24 hours and military flights will continue around the clock, a Western official told Reuters. ‘It’s absolutely hectic and chaos out there,’ the official said.

The United Nations said it had begun moving up to 100 international staff to Kazakhstan but said the measure was temporary and stressed it is ‘committed to staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need’. The UN has about 300 international staff and 3,000 local staff in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have suggested they will impose their laws more softly than during their former harsh rule, and a senior official said on Wednesday that the group’s leaders would be less reclusive than in the past.

‘Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders,’ the senior Taliban official told Reuters.

Hashimi, who has access to the group’s decision-making, said the role of women, including their right to work and education and how they should dress, would ultimately be decided by a council of Islamic scholars.

‘They will decide whether they should wear hijab, burqa, or only (a) veil plus abaya or something, or not. That is up to them,’ he told Reuters.

Under previous Taliban rule, also guided by sharia religious law, women were prevented from working, girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters on Wednesday: ‘We’ll see what they do, whether it will be according to the pronouncements that they made.’

Echoing that comment and those of other Western leaders, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Taliban would be judged ‘by its actions rather than by its words’.

Many Afghans are sceptical of the Taliban promises. Some said they could only wait and see.

‘My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed but only time will tell and it’s going to become clear very soon,’ said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.

The Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday as Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.

U.S. President Joe Biden has faced a barrage of criticism about the withdrawal, including from British lawmakers on Wednesday who called Afghanistan’s collapse into Taliban hands a failure of intelligence, leadership and moral duty.

Biden has said he had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal of his predecessor Donald Trump.

U.S. forces running the airport initially had to stop evacuation flights after thousands of frightened Afghans swamped the airfield.

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan said his team had evacuated about 700 people on Tuesday while Germany’s foreign minister said it had evacuated 500 people in total.

Asked whether Britain hoped to take 1,000 people out of Afghanistan a day, Johnson’s spokesman said they were aiming to operate at that capacity.

France said it had moved out 25 of its nationals and 184 Afghans, and Australia said 26 people had arrived on its first flight back from Kabul. Denmark said it had evacuated 84 people on a military plane.

‘Everyone wants out,’ said one Afghan man who arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday with his wife and son on a flight via Tashkent. ‘We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.’

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