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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Afghanistan’s runaway president Ashraf Ghani issues ‘explanation’

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The Taliban’s newly-appointed acting prime minister has called on former government officials who fled the country to return, promising them amnesty.

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has defended his decision to flee the country following the Taliban takeover last month, in a statement published online on Wednesday.

The runaway president said he “owes” Afghans an explanation, saying he was advised to leave by the Presidential Palace’s security to avoid similar scenes of bloodshed seen back in the 90s civil war.

“Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life, but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her six million citizens…it was never my intent to abandon the people or that vision [of building a democratic, prosperous and sovereign state],” read one part of the statement.

The statement, released weeks after the Taliban captured Kabul on 15 August, also denied reports that he fled with bags of stolen money, describing them as “baseless allegations” and “categorically false”.

“Corruption is a plague that has crippled our country for decades and fighting corruption has been a central focus of my efforts as president. I inherited a monster that could not easily or quickly be defeated,” he said, adding that he will be providing a long assessment of events leading to his departure in the near future.

Ghani also said that he, along with his Lebanese wife Rula Ghani, have both publicly declared all their assets and inheritance and welcomed “an official audit or financial investigation” under the UN or any independent body to further dismiss the allegations.

“My close aids are ready to submit their finances to public audit, and I would encourage and urge other former senior officials and political figures to do the same,” said Ghani.

In a previous interview with Doha News, Taliban spokesman in Qatar Suhail Shaheen demanded that the former president returns the money to Afghans if the claims are proven to be true.

Even before the rapid Taliban takeover of the country, Ghani was criticised by Afghans because he was “given the presidency” in the 2014 elections while running against Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah.

Influential Afghan figures downplayed Wednesday’s statement, published in English rather than Pashto or Dari, as a mere publicity stunt to save face for years of corruption as well as the fall of Kabul.

“He wants his name cleared of corruption charges. People around him were DEEPLY corrupt. Also, yet again, he does not once mention that his inept government (almost all of whom fled when danger kicked in) made it possible for provinces to fall into hands of the Taliban in 11 days,” said Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul Ali Latifi.

Ghani’s statement also came a day after the Taliban announced a new interim government consisting mainly of members of their own group as well as loyalists. Some of the listed names are former detainees and are present on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

“It is with a deep and profound regret that my own chapter ended in a similar tragedy to my predecessors…I apologise to the Afghan people that I could not make it end differently,” he said.

On Wednesday, Afghanistan’s Taliban-appointed acting prime minister Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund told Al Jazeera that the group will guarantee” the “security and safety” of all former officials who fled the country if they choose to return.

Akhund also echoed previous statements by the Taliban over guaranteeing the security of  diplomats, embassies and humanitarian relief institutions.

“The stage of bloodshed, killing and contempt for people in Afghanistan has ended, and we have paid dearly for this,” Akhund told the Qatari broadcaster.

But despite those promises, Afghan journalists on the ground have continued to face attacks while reporting on protests in Kabul.

On Wednesday, disturbing images that emerged online showed journalists for Afghanistan’s Etilaatroz news outlet bruised after being being subjected to assault by Taliban members.

Other images showed the Taliban pointing weapons at women protesters, raising more concerns over the protection of women’s rights.

US withdrawal

The latest events in Afghanistan were triggered by US President Joe Biden’s April announcement to withdraw all American and NATO troops without conditions, allowing the Taliban to act with impunity and militarily seize power.

Despite the monetary, military and humanitarian losses the US sustained during the 20-year invasion, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told the BBC that America “will be going back into Afghanistan” as they “went back into Iraq and Syria”.

“We’ll have to. Because the threat will be so large. Why did we go back to Syria and Iraq? Why do we have 5,000 troops in Iraq today? Because of their caliphate rising, projecting force outside of Iraq,” said Graham.

“What’s going to happen overtime is you’re going to see the resistance [against the Taliban’s rule] rise, ISIS will come after the Taliban large and the entire country is going to fracture in the next year, creating a perfect storm for western interest to be attacked,” he added.

Graham said the West will be left with two solutions, either to ignore the situation or “hit” the terrorists before they “hit” the foreign powers.

Qatar praised for role

Meanwhile, Qatar has continued to receive global praise for its swift response to the situation in Afghanistan, both in a diplomatic and humanitarian manner, most notably through safely carrying out one of the largest airlifts of people in history.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Qatar again for its efforts as he concluded his trip to Doha this week.

“Thanks again to the Amir and Foreign Minister of Qatar and the Qatari people for their generosity. This important visit highlighted the strength of the US-Qatar relationship. Together we will build on the initiatives to promote a more secure and prosperous region,” said Blinken in a tweet.

In a press conference on Tuesday with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Blinken said “no country has done more than Qatar”.

In the last few weeks, Doha has managed to evacuate more than 50,000 people from Afghanistan, most of whom have already reached their final destinations. Those remaining in Qatar are being temporarily accommodated at the US’ Al Udeid Air Base or compounds in Doha.

Furthermore, UN Secretary General António Guterres held a phone call with Qatar’s foreign minister in which he expressed his “deep appreciation” for Doha’s support to the intergovernmental organisation in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s FM virtually participated in ministerial talks on Afghanistan with Blinken and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas among others.

“The meeting reviewed the latest humanitarian, security and political developments in Afghanistan, the developments of the evacuation operations for the civilians, and the necessary international efforts to ensure the protection of civilians and the preservation of the gains and rights of the Afghan people,” read a statement by Qatar’s foreign ministry [MOFA].

Diplomats at the meeting also thanked Qatar for its role throughout the Afghan peace process.

Since 2019, the Gulf state has hosted the intra-Afghan talks between the former government and the Taliban.

More recently, Qatar has been in talks with the Taliban to enable the transfer of aid and resumption of civilian flights while calling for the establishment of an inclusive government.

“We don’t rush to a recognition. But we don’t completely disengage with the Taliban… we take the middle way,” Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater told AFP on Wednesday.


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