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Afghan president resurfaces in UAE, sparks questions over winners and losers in the GCC

August 19, 2021 at 1:37 pm

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani gestures during a function at the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on 4 August 2021. [SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images]

After days of speculation over his whereabouts, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani resurfaced in the UAE amidst allegation and bitter condemnation that the 72-year-old fled with some $169 million and had betrayed his people.

The UAE confirmed yesterday in a ministry statement that the Gulf nation was hosting Ghani and his family “on humanitarian grounds.” Questions were being asked about his whereabouts during the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Kabul. There were speculations that he had fled to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan or Oman.

Ghani claims that he had no option other than to flee in order to prevent bloodshed. “If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul,” Ghani said in a video streamed on Facebook yesterday, in his first public comments since Abu Dhabi confirmed he was in the UAE.

Ghani also claims that he left on the advice of government officials and explained that Kabul would have turned into another Yemen or Syria due to power struggles if he remained.

During the livestream address Ghani said that he was in consultation over his return to Afghanistan and that he was supportive of talks between the Taliban and former top government officials.

“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.”

It had been reported that Ghani had left the Afghan capital on Sunday with four cars and a helicopter full of cash and had to leave some of it behind as it would not all fit. The Afghan ambassador in Tajikistan said that Ghani escaped with $169 million and described his flight as “a betrayal of the state and the nation”. He called on the international police to arrest him.

“I left with just a waistcoat and some clothes,” Ghani said, denying the allegations yesterday. “The accusations are baseless lies. You can even ask customs officials – they are baseless,” he added.

The Gulf states are in consultation over the stance they should adopt towards Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. 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.

Read: Ex-Qatar PM calls for direct talks with the Taliban

With the exception of Qatar, which played a prominent mediating role, GCC countries are said to be caught by surprise. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi initially tried to play the role of mediator, but they failed miserably due to the Taliban’s rejection of what they saw as the pressure exerted on them by the two countries. It was then that Qatar took up the mediating role.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are now said to be in a bit of a dilemma. In comments to BBC Arabic Hussein Ibish, a researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were not “happy” with the new Afghan situation. He described Qatar as a “double winner”, first because of its sympathy with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and secondly because it was able to secure its position as a key mediator between the Taliban and Washington.

Read: Taliban ‘looks forward’ to working with Turkey

Ibish described the events unfolding in Afghanistan as a major blow to the Gulf countries, especially those that are not friendly with what he called Islamic thought, pointing to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Speaking to the BBC he explained that Taliban’s control of the government will encourage the Islamists to expand. He claimed that the Taliban’s control enhances the idea of the success of any Islamic political project and constitutes an effective tool for mobilising Islamic fighters to seize power.

Qatar has called for a peaceful transfer of power, one that ensures the safety of civilians.

The UAE, whose forces participated in military operations against the Taliban at a certain stage, called on the Afghan parties to make efforts to establish security and stability urgently. For their part, the Saudis called for maintaining security and respecting the choices of the Afghan people.