Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani Defends His Decision to Escape, Says He Is a Scapegoat

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Former Afghanistan President breaks four-month silence, says he regrets being too friendly towards America

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Mr Ghani broke more than four months of silence in an interview aired by British Broadcasting Corp on Thursday. He was interviewed not by a BBC journalist but by the recently retired Chief of the British Armed Forces, General Nick Carter. General Carter dealt extensively with Ghani throughout his military career, including a stint as deputy commander of the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. He was the editor-in-chief of the BBC morning radio show.

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In the interview, Mr Ghani blamed the US for the collapse in Afghanistan, saying his government was cut off from talks with the Taliban. “They wiped us out,” he said. He said he should have followed the example of former President Hamid Karzai who refused to cooperate so closely with Washington.

“I relied on our international partnership,” said Mr. Ghani, “rather than constantly facing off like my predecessor.”

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In the weeks before the fall of Kabul, Mr. Ghani vowed repeatedly that he was willing to die defending his country. In a BBC interview, he said that his security team told him that they would all be killed if he took a stand.

“That morning, I didn’t know that until late afternoon, I was leaving,” said Mr. Ghani. “I had to sacrifice myself to save Kabul.”

Mr Ghani said that when he boarded a helicopter out of Kabul on 15 August, he thought he would fly to the eastern city of Khost, apparently unaware that it had already fallen into the hands of the Taliban. . Khost was the base of an anti-Taliban security force trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Instead he moved to Uzbekistan and from there to the United Arab Emirates, where he lives. “I didn’t know where we would go,” said Mr. Ghani.

At the time, two different Taliban factions were closing in on Kabul. Mr Ghani said he feared a “massive conflict” between them would destroy the city – a repeat of the civil war between the mujahideen factions that fought over the Afghan capital in the early 1990s. There has been no open conflict between Taliban factions in the past four months.

Afghanistan, now completely under Taliban control, is facing an economic slowdown, partly because plans to transition from talks to power have failed with Mr. Ghani’s departure. The new Taliban administration has found itself under US sanctions, with more than $9 billion worth of Afghan central bank assets frozen. According to the United Nations, more than half of the population is facing starvation.

Mr Ghani’s interview sparked a flurry of anger from Afghans on social media. Haroon Rahimi, formerly a law professor at the now-closed American University in Afghanistan, called Mr. Ghani and his close aides “traitorous cowards”. Former Deputy Minister Abdullah Khenjani called the interview an insult to the suffering of the Afghan people.

In a BBC interview, Mr Ghani blamed veteran US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the 2020 Doha Agreement with the Taliban, for the collapse of the Afghan republic. The “process-wide, result-wise, responsibility clearly rests” with Mr Khalilzad’s team, he said. “It became an American, not an Afghan, issue…. My life’s work has been destroyed, my values ​​have been crushed and I have been made a scapegoat.”

Mr. Ghani also dismissed allegations that he had fled Afghanistan with millions of dollars as a Russian propaganda campaign. He said he welcomes an investigation by John Sopko, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, into those allegations, adding that he wants the United Nations or a private investigator to investigate.

“I would be happy to conduct any tests, including a lie-detector test,” Mr. Ghani said, adding that the wealth did not suit his lifestyle, so “what would I do with the money?”

On the same BBC show, Mr Khalilzad said that the blame for the Taliban takeover was “first of all, a failure of the Afghan leadership,” with Mr Ghani fleeing and military leaders refusing to fight.

Mr Khalilzad also said that it is an achievement in itself that the war in Afghanistan, which caused hundreds of deaths every day, is now over. “I am glad that Afghanistan’s killing zones are no more,” he said.

Write Saeed Shah at [email protected]


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