Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday he invited the Taliban to invade and capture Kabul after the sitting president, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country. Karzai said he held the door for the Taliban so they could “protect the population” and ensure Kabul did not “fall into chaos.”
Karzai said in an interview with the Associated Press (AP) that several key national and city officials left along with Ghani on August 15, as Taliban forces massed outside Kabul. Ghani was famously accused by other Afghan officials of looting the treasury and taking almost $170 million in cash with him.
Ghani denied these allegations of corruption and cowardice, claiming he departed Kabul suddenly – just hours after assuring U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken he was prepared to “fight to the death” – because he feared there would be a bloodbath if the Taliban removed him by force.
Karzai himself was accused of rampant corruption. He claimed at one point it was “nothing unusual” for the CIA to drop sacks full of cash in his office, and a 2013 investigation by the New York Times confirmed tens of millions of dollars in “ghost money” did indeed float through his office, much of it quite literally dropped off in bags. Karzai said he also took bags of cash from Iran, supposedly earmarked for political influence operations like the CIA money. A great deal of the loot ended up in the hands of Afghan warlords, politicians linked to the drug trade, and the Taliban.
U.S. and U.N. officials accused him of shamelessly rigging elections, blocking investigations of narco-terrorism, thwarting oversight while highly-connected Afghans (including his brother Mahmoud) looted Kabul Bank with fishy loans, and presiding over what U.S. government documents – kept confidential until 2019 – described as a “kleptocracy.”
Karzai responded to the “kleptocracy” accusation by blaming the U.S. government for causing corruption by pumping so much money into Afghanistan. The worst of his corruption scandals were uncovered during the Obama administration, but were kept quiet because the administration feared alienating Karzai or unleashing chaos in Afghanistan by toppling his government. Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, reportedly “thought he was corrupt as hell.”
The Taliban swiftly took advantage of President Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan last summer and swept across the country in a lightning conquest that took them from the hinterlands to the gates of Kabul in a matter of weeks. Karzai claimed the Taliban would have been satisfied with a power-sharing role in a largely civilian government, but Ghani wrecked those carefully-laid plans by running away.
According to Karzai, who became president of Afghanistan after the fall of the first Taliban regime in December 2001 and held office until September 2014, he had negotiated a plan with the Taliban for an orderly entry into Kabul. The insurgents were supposed to wait outside the city until Karzai flew to Doha, Qatar, with Ghani and 15 other officials from the civilian government. Once in Qatar, they would negotiate the final details of a “power-sharing agreement” with the Taliban.
Karzai claimed that as late as noon on August 15, the Taliban told him it had no plans to invade Kabul, so the civilian government should “stay in its positions and should not move.”
“I and others spoke to various officials and assurances were given to us that, yes, that was the case, that the Americans and the government forces were holding firm to the places (and) that Kabul would not fall,” he told the AP.
Within a few hours, Karzai said, he realized Ghani had departed Kabul by helicopter without notifying him. The defense and interior ministers were gone too, along with Kabul’s chief of police.
“There was no official present at all in the capital, no police chief, no corps commander, no other units. They had all left,” he said.
Karzai claimed Ghani’s panicked bodyguards begged him to rush to the presidential palace and take over, but he demurred, insisting he had no authority to hold the office even temporarily. He saw no alternative but to bring the Taliban in so they could control “unwanted elements who would probably loot the country, loot shops.”
Karzai insisted Ghani scuttled all hopes for a power-sharing deal by running away instead of flying for Doha, where the former president insisted Taliban leaders were standing by to negotiate with the current officeholder.
Karzai said he is still in contact with Taliban leaders, and still hopes to negotiate a permanent government with a new constitution that will not be absolutely dominated by the Islamist conquerors, who filled every position in their ostensibly “transitional” government with male members of the Taliban or its even more vile terrorist action wing, the Haqqani Network.
The Taliban has shown little inclination to give women equal rights in Afghanistan, much less put them in positions of power, but Karzai claimed that under the fusion government he is trying to put together, women would “find their place in the Afghan polity, in the administration, in economic activity and social activity, the political activity in all ways of life.”
“That’s an issue on which there cannot be any compromise,” he said.
In the meantime, Karzai urged the international community to fully recognize the Taliban and “cooperate with the government in any form they can.”
“I would describe them as Afghans, but Afghans who have gone through a very difficult period in their lives as all other Afghans have done for the past 40 years,” he said of Afghanistan’s brutal new rulers.
Karzai said all parties in his country “have been through an extremely difficult period of our history in which we, the Afghans, have made mistakes on all sides, in which the international community and those who interacted with us have made tremendous mistakes.”
“It’s time for all of us to realize that, and to look back at the mistakes that we have all made and to make it better,” he concluded.
When he was in office, Karzai called the Taliban his “brothers” and made a public offer of complete amnesty for the extremist group.
“I’m still calling them brothers. I’m still trying to have them be part of the country again and participate in Afghan life, as we all do, the Afghans,” he said in 2013, during his last constitutionally permitted term in office.
“We never planned to eliminate the Taliban, not me, not the Afghan people, not the Afghan government,” he insisted.
Karzai’s relationship with the Taliban was not always so placid. He fled to exile in Pakistan in the 90s after the Taliban rose to power, and accused them of assassinating his father, a former government official and tribal leader. He was initially a supporter of the U.S. intervention that toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, but became a critic of American policy in the 2010s.
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