Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has again defended his sudden departure from Kabul in August, saying he had no choice but to leave the country as Taliban militants bore down on the capital after an agreement with the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump paved the way for their return.
Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Ghani said he fled Afghanistan on August 15 to avoid bloodshed and the destruction of Kabul as rival factions of militants bore down on the city, a claim not backed up by any evidence.
He also denied claims by another former Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, that a deal on a peaceful transfer of power was being hammered out and said the rumors that he left the country with millions of dollars in stolen funds were false.
"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 5 million and bring havoc to the people was enormous," he said in the interview, broadcast on December 30.
"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 added of his departure, which left a power vacuum filled within hours by the Taliban.
Ghani eventually flew to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), where he received political asylum.
Ghani’s comments on his departure, which left Kabul rudderless as international armed forces made their final preparations to withdraw from the country after two decades, echoed a statement he made on September 8.
In the BBC interview, the former president said the downfall of the government was precipitated by the agreement Trump made with Taliban leaders.
"Instead of a peace process, we got a withdrawal process," Ghani said, adding that the way the deal was done "erased us."
A former World Bank employee and Kabul University dean, the 72-year-old Ghani became president after a deeply contentious election in 2014 that required Western mediation to settle.
His government participated in mostly stalled intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha with Taliban representatives that began in late 2020, although the Taliban kept up its campaign of violence throughout much of the process.
Western officials and analysts were stunned at the rapid Taliban advance capturing Afghan territory once the U.S.-led military withdrawal officially began in May.
After the withdrawal of international forces was declared complete on August 30, U.S. President Joe Biden said he had expected the Afghan government "to hold on for a period of time beyond military drawdown [but that] turned out not to be accurate."
Ghani told the BBC that he shares part of the blame for the fall of Kabul for trusting "in our international partnership" and that in the end, what unfolded was "a violent coup, not a political agreement, or a political process where the people have been involved."