South Asia

Afghan Leaders: Where They Are Now and What They're Saying

While several leaders have left the country, others remain and are in talks with each other and the Taliban.

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New Delhi: The unprecedentedly swift return of the Taliban to power after 20 years resulted in the Afghan republic’s top leadership and politicians scrambling to leave the country or find a place in the new dispensation.

Here is a tracker to monitor the latest actions and utterances of Afghanistan’s top politicos.

Ashraf Ghani

His sudden exit from Kabul on August 15 upended the understanding about a transfer of power. There are numerous unconfirmed reports about his hasty departure, the size of his entourage and the baggage that went with him. A few hours after news about his escape became clear, Taliban forces entered the city and had installed themselves in the presidential palace by night.

A day after he left, Ghani wrote a Facebook post where he justified his actions. “If I had stayed, countless of my countrymen would be martyred, and Kabul would face destruction,” he wrote.

While he supposedly left for Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, other reports claimed that he made it to Oman.

After four days, the UAE announced that it has “welcomed” Ghani and his family “on humanitarian grounds”.

A couple of hours later, Ghani posted a video in which he said that his exit was to avoid a lynching, alluding to the fate of former Afghan president Najibullah. “The defeat was not of our military, it was a political failure; on our side, on Taliban side, and the US side,” he said, reading out a statement with the Afghan flag in the background.

Confirming that he was in the UAE, Ghani said that there had been an agreement with the Taliban not to enter Kabul on Sunday. But his security guards told him that the Taliban had reached the wall of the presidential palace.

“If I had stayed in Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan would have witnessed the president hanged once more,” he said, adding that he will return.

Ghani also denied allegations from Russian diplomats that he left with bags of cash. He said that he only left with his turban, slippers and a change of clothes, and did not even have time to take his books.

Also read: ‘Living a Fearful Life’: Kashmiris Stuck in Kabul Appeal to Union Govt for Evacuation

Abdullah Abdullah

The head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, who led the Afghan government’s delegation for talks with the Taliban, was uncharacteristically angry in his video after Ghani left. “God will call him to account, and the people of Afghanistan will make their judgment,” he said.

He remains in Kabul, working with Hamid Karzai, his erstwhile rival, to negotiate with the Taliban leadership. After Ghani’s exit on Sunday, Afghan social media channels were abuzz with videos to show that Abdullah Abdullah had stayed in the country

On Wednesday, Afghan media reported that he met with Anas Haqqani, a member of the Taliban’s political office and the Haqqani network.

Hamid Karzai

The first image that former President Karzai posted on Sunday afternoon – after news broke that the Taliban was at Kabul’s outskirts – was of a meeting with Abdullah. It was an image of the two seasoned politicians meeting together calmly to find a way out of the turmoil and disarray of the end of the republican era.

As reports came in of Afghan politicians leaving the country, Karzai posted a video with his three young daughters to indicate that he will stay in the country. He also called on people to remain in their homes and asked security forces and the Taliban to protect civilians.

Together with Abdullah and Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, he also announced the formation of a coordination council that will “prevent chaos and reduce the suffering of the people and to manage better the affairs related to peace and the peaceful transfer”.

On August 18, both Karzai and Abdullah held meetings with Anas Haqqani, which Karzai’s spokesperson stated would facilitate eventual negotiations with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. A day earlier, Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi, who was higher education minister in the first Taliban regime, had also met with the two leaders.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

The former Mujahideen had to leave the Afghan city in 1996 when the Taliban swept to power. He returned to Kabul in 2017 after signing a peace deal with the Ghani government, but Hekmatyar had largely been in the woods. With him emerging as one of the trio of Afghan politicians negotiating with the Taliban after the latter’s reconquest, the Hizb-e-Islami leader is back in the spotlight.

On Sunday, Hekmatyar blamed the Ghani administration for not stepping down and transferring power to a “government acceptable to all”. According to Al Jazeera, Hekmatyar said he was heading to Doha with Karzai and Abdullah to meet with the Taliban.

Also read: The US Lost but Hold the Schadenfreude, Afghanistan Is Now the World’s Problem

Amarullah Saleh

Afghan first vice president Amrullah Saleh announced on Tuesday that he was the “legitimate caretaker president” according to the constitution as President Ghani had left the country. He also stated that he was “currently inside my country”.

While he did not identify his location, videos and photos were circulated to show his presence in Panjshir, the only province yet to be conquered by the Taliban. Ahmad Massoud, son of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud who two al-Qaeda terrorists assassinated just before the 9/11 attacks on the United States, had also posted a video that he was in Panjshir.

In a series of tweets since the fall of Kabul, he stated that it was “futile” to argue with US President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out US forces. His tweet was posted after Biden’s speech in which he put the majority of the blame for the reconquest by the Taliban on Afghan security forces and politicians. He called on Afghans to show that Afghanistan “isn’t Vietnam & the Talibs aren’t even remotely like Vietcong”.

Saleh stated that unlike the US and NATO, “we haven’t lost the spirit and see enormous opportunities ahead”. “Useless caveats are finished. Join the resistance,” he urged.

Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan and a close friend of the Massoud family, told The New York Times that they were ready to join hands with the Taliban if there was an inclusive government. “If the Taliban want to avoid a fight and take control of the territory they are in — the difficult-to-penetrate Panjshir Valley — they will need to form an inclusive government, rather than try to lead on their own,” said the NYT report.

Bismillah Mohammadi

The Afghan defence minister said on Sunday evening that security forces were committed to “defend Kabul” – even as reports said that most security personnel had left their posts with the Taliban waiting at the capital city’s borders.

After Ghani and his entourage left the country, he tweeted that he would not sit “at the same table” as the Taliban. In a scathing tweet which he ‘pinned’ to his account, Mohammadi accused Ghani of having “tied our hands” and selling out his homeland. He also tweeted on Tuesday with a hashtag calling on Interpol to arrest Ghani.

Mohammadi had not mentioned whether he remains in Afghanistan. However, as per some reports, he is joining Saleh and Massoud in Panjshir to form the resistance against the Taliban.

Ismail Khan

The influential regional leader led an uprising against the Taliban in Herat city, which staved the insurgent group for about a month. But on August 12, the capital of Herat province fell to the Taliban as the security forces withdrew to their base. Khan was taken into custody by the Taliban from the army base and detained at his residence. The Taliban claimed that he had joined their side.

According to reports, the veteran commander left for Iran on August 15. However, it is not clear if he has left the county to go into exile. There are unconfirmed reports that he may be travelling to Doha or another city to participate in government formation talks with the Taliban.

Also read: India Should Have Kept Its Embassy in Kabul Open

Abdul Rashid Dostum

As the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the Taliban, former first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum left for Uzbekistan, along with Atta Mohammad Noor, Balkh province’s former governor and Jamiat-e-Islam leader.

Noor posted on his social media accounts that they were victims of a large, organised “conspiracy”. “They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed,” Noor wrote.

There has been no word yet from Dostum, but reports on Thursday said that he may have gone to Panjshir to join the resistance front.

Danish Sarwar

According to a local journalist, Afghanistan’s second vice president, Sarwar Danish, a member of the Hazara minority, left for Istanbul on Tuesday. He has not said anything publicly after the fall of Kabul.

Mohammad Haneef Atmar

Afghan foreign minister Atmar had posted a day after the fall of Kabul that he had been “forced to flee” due to the cowardly attack at his residence. He mentioned that he was safe but did not provide any information about his current location.

Mohammad Karim Khalili

Chairman of the Afghan high peace council and former vice president Karim Khalili was part of an eight-member political delegation that landed in Islamabad on August 15. The composition of the delegation, all of them part of the erstwhile Northern Alliance, and the timing of their arrival in Islamabad was an inkling of the centre-stage role that Pakistan would have in creating the new government with the Taliban at the helm.

On Wednesday, Khalili posted a lengthy post on his Facebook account on his visit to Pakistan. As per the machine translation, he said that the purpose of the visit, on the invitation of the Pakistan government, was to help form an inclusive government.

Expressing optimism, he said that all Pakistani officials had “shown their support for the formation of an all-inclusive government based on the consent of all the people, personalities, political affiliation and tribes of Afghanistan”.

He hoped that the Taliban’s top leadership would pay attention to the issue of forming a stable political order, “which the future of Afghanistan depends on it”.

Khalili had also appreciated the Taliban’s announcement of general amnesty for all opponents, describing it as essential for building trust. “We hope that this moderate and peaceful approach will last and be considered at all levels and overall,” he hoped.

Another member of this delegation, Abdul Latif Pedram, wrote that all the leaders emphasised that the centralisation of power would support a more federal political structure.

The delegation included Ahmed Wali Massoud and Ahmed Zia Massoud, two younger brothers of famed Mujahideen leader, as well as, Khalid Noor, son of Atta Mohammad Noor.

Yunus Qanooni

Former vice-president and speaker of the lower house, Qanoon led the delegation to Pakistan. Parsing an interview given by Qanooni to an Afghan news channel, Afghanistan Analysts Network, he foresaw more talks before the shape of a new administration emerges. He called on the Taliban to translate their moderate rhetoric into actions and work towards a government of unity.

He noted that the departure of Ghani was an opportunity as his government had held the peace process hostage.

Salahuddin Rabbani

The Jamaat-e-Islam leader had described Ghani’s exit as “humiliating and disgraceful” and compared it to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Sneaking out in the dead of night while betraying a nation is something we witnessed in Bagram only a few weeks ago. It would’ve been much less costlier if you had taken him then too,” he wrote on August 16.

Rabbani, who was also part of the delegation, wrote on Facebook, that their visit to Islamabad had been scheduled earlier, but it was postponed to August 15.

The former foreign minister stated that Afghanistan was in a “very important and sensitive situation”. He noted that it was necessary to get a system that is “acceptable to all people and all nations that live in this country”.

Pointing to the Ghani administration, Rabbani stated that the country had already seen the result of centralisation of power and sidelining of other stakeholders.