Deposed Afghan president Ghani turns up in Emirates

Deposed Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country as the Taliban surrounded the capital Kabul, has taken refuge in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf state said Wednesday.

The U.A.E.’s Foreign Ministry said it welcomed Mr. Ghani and his family, whose whereabouts had been unknown since Sunday, on “humanitarian grounds.”

The former president and a small circle of advisers fled Kabul to neighboring Tajikistan as the Taliban appeared on the outskirts of the capital Sunday morning. After his departure, Afghan police and security left their posts and the U.S. began a massive military operation to airlift Western diplomats, civilians and Afghans out of the country. Many Afghans and Westerners who want to leave remain stranded in Kabul as the Taliban consolidates power.

In a video recorded from the U.A.E. Wednesday evening, 72-year-old Mr. Ghani said he had been negotiating with the Taliban on creating an “inclusive and representative” government but was forced to flee after the militants entered Kabul and Afghan officials couldn’t maintain security. Minutes after leaving, members of the Taliban entered the presidential palace, he said. “Should I have stayed, the Afghan people’s president would have been executed in front of their eyes,” he added.

Mr. Ghani said his exit wasn’t organized with any international country and that he was considering how to return to Afghanistan to maintain the country’s sovereignty and fight for justice. It isn’t clear where Mr. Ghani is staying in the U.A.E. A Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment.

The former World Bank economist served nearly seven years as president of Afghanistan in two elections tainted by fraud that raised questions about his legitimacy. Mr. Ghani, author of a book called “Fixing Failed States,” was embraced by Western leaders who viewed him as a capable technocrat they thought could tackle endemic corruption in Afghanistan.

But Mr. Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, failed to unite the country, uproot government corruption, or secure the confidence of key Western leaders. Some Afghan officials said they felt betrayed by Mr. Ghani, saying he fled the country without telling them and abandoned his post.

The Russian Embassy in Kabul, citing witnesses, said that Mr. Ghani fled the country with suitcases of money. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan, Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, called on Interpol to arrest Mr. Ghani and his advisers, calling them “the national robbers of the Afghan people.”

In the video, Mr. Ghani denied he’d stolen money, calling the allegations “baseless and false.” He said U.A.E. customs officials could confirm his team arrived without cash.

Afghanistan’s former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, meanwhile, has vowed to actively resist Taliban rule, saying he has become the country’s legitimate caretaker president under the constitution.

So far, few Afghans have rallied behind this claim. But the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan removed Mr. Ghani’s picture and replaced it with Mr. Saleh, according to Mr. Aghbar’s Facebook post.

The U.A.E. has long been an ally of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan led by Mr. Ghani and it was one of the few Gulf countries to commit troops to peacekeeping operations there.

The Gulf state said Tuesday it seeks stability in Afghanistan. Senior U.A.E. official Anwar Gargash in a tweet said that Taliban statements that emphasized tolerance and amnesty were positive and the U.A.E. hoped the group’s takeover would turn the page of suffering in favor of peace and prosperity for all its people.

The U.A.E. together with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the only nations that officially recognized the Taliban during its five years of often draconian rule of Afghanistan. The groups rein ended with the U.S.-led invasion of the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, whom the Taliban had harbored. The U.A.E. at that time broke ties with the Taliban.

In recent years, however, the U.A.E. has attempted to help bring the Taliban together with the U.S. to engineer peace talks and regularly hosted Mr. Ghani. The effort was viewed as a counterweight to Qatar’s influence over peace negotiations and part of a diplomatic rift between Doha and the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia that began in 2017. Doha has been the focus of Taliban diplomacy since 2010, when the group opened a political office there.

Mr. Ghani isn’t the first international leader to seek refuge in the U.A.E. Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came to the U.A.E. in 2008 before facing a corruption conviction he said was politically motivated and then made a home in Dubai, the U.A.E.’s commercial hub. Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, among others, also lived in self-exile in the country.

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