ABU DHABI – The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday (Aug 18) that it is hosting former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani “on humanitarian grounds”, after he fled his country amid a Taleban takeover.
Mr Ghani’s whereabouts had been unknown after he fled Afghanistan at the weekend in the face of a sweeping advance by the Taleban.
“The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds,” the ministry said in a brief statement.
Mr Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday as the Taleban closed in on Kabul, before the insurgents walked into the Afghan capital unopposed.
In a Facebook post, Mr Ghani said the “Taleban have won” and that he fled to avoid a “flood of bloodshed”.
Until Wednesday, speculation had mounted that he had fled to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan or Oman.
The Taleban capped a staggeringly fast rout of Afghanistan’s major cities in just 10 days, achieved with relatively little bloodshed, following two decades of war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
The collapse came as US President Joe Biden moved to complete the withdrawal of US troops. He admitted on Monday that the Taleban advance had unfolded more quickly than expected but defended his decision to leave, and criticised Mr Ghani’s government.
US-led forces invaded the country following the Sept 11 attacks in 2001, in response to the Taleban giving sanctuary to Al-Qaeda, and toppled them.
This would not be the first time that the oil-rich Gulf country opens its arms to former leaders and their relatives, now persona non grata in their country.
In 2017, the emirate of Dubai hosted former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.
Spain’s king Juan Carlos went into self-exile in the UAE in August last year as questions mounted over the origins of his fortune, and the UAE was Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s home during her eight years in exile before she was assassinated in her home country in 2007.
The UAE is one of three nations, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which recognised the previous hardline Taleban regime, which ruled from 1996 to 2001.
This time around, the Taleban have sought to project an air of restraint and moderation.
Mr Ghani was elected in 2014 on promises to remake Afghanistan.
But the 72-year-old may ultimately be remembered for making little headway against the deep-rooted government corruption that underwrote his downfall.
In his last years in office, Mr Ghani watched as he was first cut off from talks between Washington and the Taleban that paved the way for the US exit from Afghanistan, and then forced by his American allies to release 5,000 hardened insurgents to lock down a peace deal that never materialised.
Dismissed as a “puppet” by the Taleban, Mr Ghani was left with little leverage during his final months in the presidential palace, and resorted to delivering televised diatribes that did little to improve his reputation with Afghans.