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Afghanistan’s deposed president Ashraf Ghani defended his decision to leave the country as the Taliban seized power, saying his life was in imminent danger and he is in talks to return.
Resurfacing in the United Arab Emirates after days of speculation over his whereabouts, Ghani said in a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday night that he fled to avoid chaos as Taliban fighters swooped into Kabul over the weekend and toppled his government.
“I had to leave Afghanistan in order to prevent bloodshed, in order to make sure that a huge disaster is prevented,” Ghani said, according to a translation provided by Al Jazeera. “I’m in consultation with others to return so that I can continue my efforts for justice.”
The ousted president has been criticised by members of his erstwhile government, who have accused him of betrayal and allowing the Taliban to take over Afghanistan in the wake of the US troop withdrawal.
Ghani was also accused of looting Afghan coffers as he left, including allegations that he fled with a helicopter full of cash. He called the allegations “baseless lies” and said he left with only one change of clothes.
The UAE said it took in the former president on humanitarian grounds.
The Taliban, which assumed control of the country after a lightning offensive last week, is preparing to set up its own government.
The Islamist militant group has sought to strike a more moderate tone since returning to power, claiming that former Afghan soldiers and government workers would be granted amnesty and that it would protect women’s rights “within the limits of Islamic law”.
The Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001 and imposed an extreme interpretation of Islam that extinguished women’s rights and used brutal punishments, such as public executions, to deal with alleged crimes.
The group is in talks with politicians such as Hamid Karzai, the former president, amid speculation that he and other non-Taliban leaders could participate in the new administration.
However, some other political and militant leaders have pledged to mount a resistance to the Taliban.
Amrullah Saleh, Ghani’s former vice-president, said he was the caretaker president and this week met Ahmad Massoud, the son of an anti-Taliban warlord assassinated by al-Qaeda in 2001.
Massoud said he was trying to gather resistance fighters in Panjshir, a mountainous province that has long been a base for guerrilla fighters.
Observers are sceptical of the Taliban’s efforts to present a more moderate face, arguing that they expect militants to continue employing violence to consolidate power.
On Wednesday at least three people were killed as the Taliban put down several protests in eastern Afghanistan, using gunfire to disperse the crowds that gathered in the first open display of dissent to their rule.
Ghani said he was warned he would meet the same fate as Mohammad Najibullah, a former president and communist who was murdered by the Taliban when they over-ran Kabul in 1996. His mutilated body was paraded through the streets.
“What had happened 25 years ago in Afghanistan was going to take place again,” Ghani said.
The US has sent thousands of troops to secure the airport, which has been the site of several chaotic and often violent days as thousands of desperate Afghans tried to flee the country.
The Taliban has been accused of turning away and beating some of the people trying to get to the airport, while US troops have also fired shots in an effort to disperse crowds.
But American forces have struggled to take control. Evacuation flights were halted at various points and US officials have acknowledged they have been unable to evacuate enough Americans and Afghan allies.
President Joe Biden denied that he had mishandled the US’s withdrawal, arguing that it could not have happened without “chaos ensuing”.
“The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he told ABC, the US broadcaster.
Video: How the 20-year war changed Afghanistan | FT Film