Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to BBC in a radio interview on Thursday for the first time since he mysteriously disappeared during the fall of Kabul in August.
Ghani denied reports that he fled before the Taliban advance with millions of dollars in public money stuffed into bags and suitcases.
The BBC noted Ghani’s account of his last hours in Kabul differed sharply from the account given by his predecessor Hamid Karzai, who said in an interview with the Associated Press two weeks ago that Ghani’s abrupt departure scuttled an agreement he had reached with the Taliban to enter the capital city gradually and peacefully.
Karzai said he had little choice but to throw open the gates of Kabul so the Taliban could sweep in and restore order after Ghani and other top officials fled and left the city in chaos.
Ghani told the BBC he had “no inkling” he would be leaving Kabul on August 15 until he was bundled into a helicopter by his aides. He claimed it was the Taliban that violated the agreements Karzai spoke of, pushing into the city by force two hours after they had promised to remain outside.
“Two different factions of the Taliban were closing in from two different directions, and the possibility of a massive conflict between them that would destroy the city of five million and bring havoc to the people was enormous,” he claimed.
Commenting on the Ghani interview, Australia’s ABC News noted there was “no evidence” of any rival Taliban factions battling for control when the insurgents took Kabul. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) pointed out there has been no open factional conflict within the Taliban in the four months since it took power.
Ghani claimed he and his wife, along with his top officials, left Kabul “reluctantly,” agreeing to escape by helicopter only after his “terrified” security chief said they would “all be killed” if they remained in the city.
“He did not give me more than two minutes. My instructions had been to prepare for departure for Khost. He told me that Khost had fallen and so had Jalalabad,” Ghani said of his conversation with the security chief.
“I did not know where we will go. Only when we took off, it became clear that we were leaving [Afghanistan]. So this really was sudden,” he claimed.
Ghani claimed the sudden U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “erased” his government, leading to a swift Taliban takeover that he called a “violent coup, not a political agreement, or a political process where the people have been involved.”
“I want to categorically state, I did not take any money out of the country,” he said of allegations from other Afghan officials that he left with $170 million in cash from the national treasury. “My style of life is known to everyone. What would I do with money?” he said, dismissing the accusations of theft as a Russian disinformation campaign and expressing his willingness to sit for a “lie-detector test.”
“My life’s work has been destroyed. My values had been trampled on. And I have been made a scapegoat,” Ghani complained.
Former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad appeared on the same BBC program as Ghani and rejected his claims.
Khalilzad substantially supported the account given by Karzai that Ghani fled unexpectedly and ruined a deal with the Taliban that could have produced a more orderly political transition for Afghanistan. Khalilzad noted it was a matter of record that Ghani told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he would remain in Kabul and participate in the transfer of power, just hours before Ghani jumped on a helicopter and left the country.
The WSJ reported a “deluge of anger from Afghans on social media” after Ghani’s BBC interview, with critics calling Ghani and his top officials “treasonous cowards” and denouncing his excuse-making interview as an “insult” to the suffering Afghan people.
ABC News noted Ghani concluded his presidential career with the dubious honor of making the list of the world’s most corrupt officials, compiled every year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international panel of journalists and scholars.
Ghani lost the top spot to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, but he was a finalist along with Bashar Assad of Syria and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey – a formidable achievement, given the panel had 1,167 nominees to choose from.
“He was breathtaking in both his corruption and his gross incompetence. He deserted his people, leaving them to misery and death so he could live among the corrupt former state officials in the moral cesspool that is the UAE,” OCCRP co-founder and panelist Drew Sullivan said of Ghani.
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