The now-former president, previously backed by the US, left the country shortly before the Taliban* seized the presidential palace in Kabul, according to him, to “prevent bloodshed.” For several days, no one knew where he was until later Ghani himself admitted that he had fled to the UAE and even hoped to return to the country someday soon.
A former senior official in Afghanistan’s deposed President Ashraf Ghani’s cabinet revealed how the president and his aides were surprised by the Taliban’s speedy assault on Kabul, as they were working on a deal to “hand over peacefully to an inclusive government” and on Ghani’s resignation, CNN reported on Saturday.
Citing an anonymous former top official, the channel stated that a senior member of the Ghani government met with a prominent member of a group affiliated with both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda* in Kabul in the final hours of the overthrown regime, and was told frankly that the government must surrender.
“In the days leading up to the Taliban coming in Kabul, we had been working on a deal with the US to hand over peacefully to an inclusive government and for President Ghani to resign,” the official is quoted in the report as saying. “These talks were underway when the Taliban came into the city. The Taliban entering Kabul city from multiple points was interpreted by our intelligence as hostile advances.”
Ghani was unprepared for the Taliban’s arrival on the outskirts of Kabul late Saturday and escaped on Sunday with only the clothing he was wearing, thus refuting the accusations of him packing loads of money into cars.
“We had received intelligence for over a year that the President would be killed in the event of a takeover,” the source added.
© REUTERS / STRINGER
A Taliban fighter holding an M16 assault rifle stands outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021.
And Ghani reportedly left in a hurry, as at first, he went to “Termez in Uzbekistan, where he spent one night,” before flying to the United Arab Emirates.
“There was no money with him. He literally just had the clothes he was wearing,” the former official assured.
As the Taliban marched through provincial capitals, the former official reportedly said that for those inside the palace, holding Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, was crucial.
“Our thinking was that Kandahar had enough forces in addition to local forces. Additional forces were also sent from Khost, and we were thinking they would be able to hold Kandahar as they did in Helmand,” he stressed.
According to the official, last Friday, as Kandahar fell it was “obvious that Kabul could no longer hold but we thought we had more time than we did until the Taliban reached Kabul. It happened much faster.” And the government underestimated the level of morale in the field army.
“We, the Afghan government and our international partners, underestimated the effect that the US withdrawal would have on the morale of our troops, as well as the logistical challenges in keeping them supplied,” the official explained. “We thought, and the Americans also predicted, that we had at least till mid-September to make a political deal and consolidate our forces to create a military stalemate.”
The former government employee admitted that Afghanistan had “underestimated the number of localized and individual deals that had been made in advance between the Taliban and political leaders, commanders and businessmen.”
However, he apparently put the blame on the US’ fast pullout for such a collapse of the nation, as “this was not a process that was ever fully controlled by Afghans in the first place.”
Ghani’s Escape and Search for a Way Out of the Political Impasse
Ghani, who has been chastised for abandoning Afghans to the Taliban, denied on Wednesday that he had left Kabul with millions of dollars in cash. In a video address, he explained that he departed the nation to avoid bloodshed, and that he did not even have the time to change his shoes.
“The concern was war inside a city of six million people. We knew that if Ghani left, the guns will be silent,” the former official thought.
Earlier, reports circulated that the former president fled Afghanistan with enormous sums of money, estimated to be worth around $169 million, and that “some of the money was left on the runway,” as he tried to escape.
© AFP 2021 / WAKIL KOHSAR
(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 18, 2021, a Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul
According to the source, Ghani had never personally met with the Taliban, but instead, Sirajuddin Haqqani’s (deputy Taliban leader) uncle, Khalil Haqqani, reportedly spoke with Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib on Sunday afternoon, relaying that the movement wanted a peaceful transfer of power and that the government should issue a statement of surrender, after which they will negotiate.
In addition, the former official discussed the recent efforts in Kabul to build a new government, expressing a hope to balance against the rule of the Taliban’s Sharia law.
“There are efforts in Kabul on the formation of an inclusive government, led now by Dr. Abdullah and former President Karzai. We started those efforts last week and we support those efforts and hope the Taliban will not try to create a monopoly government.”
According to the official, if the Islamist movement wants worldwide recognition as a legitimate force, “they will have to accept to work with others and form an inclusive representative government.”
“There is still hope that the Taliban will act wisely. So far their actions have been calculated, which is a good sign. They appear to be working closely with political leaders,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Hashmat Ghani, the younger brother of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, pledged allegiance to the Taliban, the Islamist group claimed.
On Saturday, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov told the German outlet Spiegel that Ghani always refused to discuss the peace process in the country during personal meetings, as he reportedly always tried to change the subject.
* Terrorist organizations banned in Russia and many other states