Afghanistan’s ousted president Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that he had been “made a scapegoat” for the Taliban coup d’etat which he said had forced him to flee Kabul to save it from destruction.
In his first interview since the chaotic events of August, Mr Ghani said he understood the anger of Afghan people who blamed him for his government’s collapse.
But he said his mistake had been to trust in Afghanistan’s international backers, such as the US, whom he accused of cutting his government out of peace talks with the Taliban.
Mr Ghani fled into exile after the Taliban rolled into Kabul to cap a lightning-quick advance across Afghanistan, which restored them to power before the Nato troop withdrawal was complete.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme by Britain’s former top military officer, General Sir Nick Carter, Mr Ghani said he had not expected to leave the capital when he woke on August 15, the morning of the Taliban capture.
His advisers told him that if troops were to take a stand, they would all be killed. Informed that a possible hideout within Afghanistan’s borders had fallen, he left Kabul in a helicopter without knowing his destination, he said.
“There couldn’t be a harder thing. I had to sacrifice myself in order to save Kabul and to expose the situation for what it is: a violent coup,” he said.
“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 five million and bring havoc to the people was enormous.”
He denied rumours that he had spirited money out of the country, which he suggested had been stirred up by Russia. He said he had no desire for personal wealth.
“My style of life is known to everyone. What would I do with money? I would be delighted to have any kind of investigation,” he said. "I stand out for my commitment to my country."
The Taliban advance came as the Nato troops who had supported Mr Ghani’s government withdrew at the instigation of US President Joe Biden. Western leaders admitted they did not see the speed of the insurgency coming.
Mr Biden argued he was boxed in by an agreement he inherited from his predecessor, Donald Trump, which provided for a US withdrawal and a peace process that never took place.
“Instead of a peace process, we got a withdrawal process – a US withdrawal process,” said Mr Ghani of the 2020 deal between Washington and the Taliban.
“We were never given the opportunity to sit down with them. It became an American issue, not an Afghan issue. They erased us.”
Afghanistan currently faces a humanitarian crisis with fears of 23 million people being unable to feed themselves this winter.
Mr Ghani said the crisis showed the costs of turning his country into a battlefield for geopolitical rivals. A neutral Afghanistan would be a more enduring entity, he said.
Reflecting on his own position, he said: “My life’s work has been destroyed. My values have been trampled on and I’ve been made a scapegoat.
“What they rightly blame me for, they’ve a total right, is I trusted in our international partnership and pursued that path. All of us made a huge mistake in assuming that the patience of the international community would last.”