Ghani denies taking large sums of money as he fled Afghanistan

Speaking from the UAE, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he left the country to prevent bloodshed.

President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan as the Taliban closed in on Kabul [File: Stringer/Reuters]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking from exile in the United Arab Emirates, has said that he had left Kabul to prevent bloodshed and denied reports he took large sums of money with him as he departed the presidential palace.

Ghani has been bitterly criticised by former ministers for leaving the country suddenly as Taliban forces entered Kabul on Sunday.

“If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul,” Ghani said in a video streamed on Facebook on Wednesday, his first public comments since it was confirmed he was in the UAE.

He left on the advice of government officials, he added.

“Kabul should not be turned into another Yemen or Syria over power struggles so I was forced to leave,” Ghani said.

He also tried to push back on rumours he left the country with millions of dollars.

“I left with just a waistcoat and some clothes. The personality assassination against me has been ongoing, saying that I have taken money with me,” Ghani said in the video.

“The accusations are baseless lies. You can even ask customs officials – they are baseless.”

The president’s whereabouts were unknown until Wednesday, with speculation that he had fled to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan or Oman.

Earlier on Wednesday the United Arab Emirates confirmed in a ministry statement that the Gulf nation was hosting Ghani and his family “on humanitarian grounds”.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan had accused Ghani of stealing $169m from state funds and called on international police to arrest him.

Ambassador Mohammad Zahir Aghbar told a news conference on Wednesday that Ghani “stole $169m from the state coffers” and called his flight “a betrayal of the state and the nation”.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays reporting from the United Nations said it’s an allegation “that’s reverberated on social media among senior members of his former cabinet and those that were close to him” including his defence minister Bismillah Khan.

“Bismillah Khan has been on Twitter, he said: ‘Those trading or selling out their motherland should be punished and arrested.’ He added the hashtag #InterpolArrestGhani,” Bays said.

‘I am in consultation for my return’

Ghani also said in his livestream address that he supports talks between the Taliban and top former government officials, and that he was “in talks to return” home after seeking refuge in the UAE.

“I support the government initiative of ongoing negotiations with Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai. I want the success of this process,” he said.

“I am in consultation for my return to Afghanistan so that I can continue efforts for justice, true Islamic and national values.”

The UAE is one of three nations, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which recognised the previous Taliban regime, which ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

On Monday, there were scenes of panic and chaos at the Kabul airport as desperate residents tried to flee the war-torn country. Deaths were reported as some clung to planes flying out of the capital.

Earlier this year, the war between the Taliban and Afghan forces intensified as foreign troops announced their withdrawal from the country by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks that led to the US invasion.

With the collapse of the Afghan government, attention is turning to ensure the safety of civilians and evacuees and an orderly transfer of power.

The Taliban has declared that the war in Afghanistan is over and said efforts to form an inclusive government are under way.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies