In his first address to the nation after fleeing Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani, speaking from exile in the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday 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.
“If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul,” Ghani said in a video streamed on Facebook, his first public comments since it was confirmed he was in the UAE. He left on the advice of government officials, he added.
Ghani has been bitterly criticised by former ministers for leaving the country suddenly as Taliban forces entered Kabul on Sunday.
The United Arab Emirates says it has accepted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his family for “humanitarian considerations”.
Ghani fled Afghanistan just as the Taliban approached Kabul.
According to AP, the statement carried by the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency on Wednesday did not say where Ghani was in the country. It quoted the country’s Foreign Ministry in a one-sentence statement.
Amid efforts by the Taliban to set up a government following their dramatic takeover of Afghanistan, a Taliban commander and senior leader of the Haqqani Network militant group, Anas Haqqani, met former president Hamid Karzai for talks on Wednesday.
According to news agency Reuters, Karzai was accompanied by the old government’s main peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, in the meeting, said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified.
The Haqqani Network is an important faction of the Taliban, who captured the capital, Kabul, on Sunday. The network, based on the border with Pakistan, was accused over recent years of some of the most deadly militant attacks in Afghanistan.
Despite promises of safety by the Taliban, more than 2,200 diplomats and other civilians have been evacuated from Afghanistan on military flights, a Western security official told Reuters on Wednesday.
“We are continuing at a very fast momentum, logistics show no glitches as of now,” the official told Reuters. However, it is not yet clear when civilian flights would resume.
The official said those getting out included diplomatic staff, foreign security staff and Afghans who worked for embassies, but he did not give a breakdown of how many Afghans were among the more than 2,200 people to leave.
At least two people were killed and a dozen wounded after shots were fired at the protest against the removal of the Afghan flag by the Taliban in the eastern city of Jalalabad, Al Jazeera reported.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) August 18, 2021
Dozens of people gathered in the city to raise the national flag a day before Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which commemorates the end of British rule in 1919. They lowered the Taliban flag — a white banner with an Islamic inscription — that the militants have raised in the areas they captured.
Video footage later showed the Taliban firing into the air and attacking people with batons to disperse the crowd. Babrak Amirzada, a reporter for a local news agency, said he and a TV cameraman from another agency were beaten by the Taliban as they tried to cover the unrest.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Taliban would be judged on their actions, not their words, after they sought to convince the world they would not seek revenge after seizing Afghanistan.
While addressing parliament, which was recalled from its summer break to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, Johnson ruled out any resumption of military action in the country and instead called on the United Nations to lead a humanitarian effort.
“We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access, and the rights of girls to receive an education,” Johnson was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The Taliban have blown up the statue of a Shiite militia leader who had fought against them during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, according to photos circulating on social media Wednesday.
The statue depicted Abdul Ali Mazari, a militia leader killed by the Taliban in 1996, when the Islamic militants seized power from rival warlords. Mazari was a champion of Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara minority, Shiites who were persecuted under the Sunni Taliban’s earlier rule.
The statue stood in the central Bamyan province, where the Taliban infamously blew up two massive 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain in 2001, shortly before the US-led invasion that drove them from power. The Taliban claimed the Buddhas violated Islam’s prohibition on idolatry.