Ghani pledged to fight till death but fled, says Blinken

Published November 1, 2021
This file photo shows former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. — Facebook screengrab/File
This file photo shows former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. — Facebook screengrab/File

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promised to fight till death but fled Kabul when the Taliban came.

Also, this weekend a conservative US think-tank, Hudson Institute, rated the reported US-Pakistan talks on a formal agreement for using Pakistani airspace for operations in Afghanistan as a major development.

In a recent interview to “CBS Face The Nation” talk-show, former US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said that the Biden administration could have done more to prevent the collapse of the government in Kabul.

At Sunday’s show, the interviewer asked Secretary Blinken if he had personally tried to persuade Mr. Ghani to stay in Kabul.

Mr Blinken said he was on the phone with Mr Ghani on Saturday (Aug 14) night, pressing him to accept a plan for transferring power to a new government in Kabul, This government would have been “led by the Taliban but (would have) included all aspects of the Afghan society,” he said.

Mr Ghani told him that “he was prepared to do that, but if the Taliban wouldn’t go along, he was ready to fight to the death,” Mr Blinken said. “And the very next day, he fled Afghanistan.” The Taliban captured Kabul on Aug 15 as Mr Ghani flew out of Afghanistan.

“So, I was engaged with President Ghani over many weeks, many months,” Mr Blinken added.

Asked if he did everything he could, the top US diplomat said the State Department was reviewing everything that the US did, starting from 2020 when the Trump administration made an agreement with the Taliban for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan.

The review would include “the actions we took during our administration, because we have to learn every possible lesson from the last couple of years” and also from the last 20 years, he said.

Pointing out that this was America’s longest war, Secretary Blinken said President Biden ended the longest war to ensure that another generation of Americans would not have to fight and die in Afghanistan.

“And I think when all of this settles, that’s profoundly what the American people want and is in our interest,” he said. “Meanwhile, we are doing everything we can to make good on our ongoing commitments.”

The Hudson review on a possible US-Pakistan agreement on air access claimed that Pakistan would “portray the counter-terrorism agreement as a sign of close US-Pakistan cooperation.”

Another Hudson report, distributed with the review, noted that several US commentators had voiced their desire to disengage with Pakistan. “That would be a mistake. Frustrating as Pakistan’s policies have been for the US, Pakistan remains important for US policy,” the report added.

Earlier this week, US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl told Congress that Pakistan has continued to give the United States access to its airspace and the two sides were also talking about keeping that access open.

“Pakistan is a challenging actor, but they don’t want Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorist attacks, external attacks, not just against Pakistan but against others” as well, Dr Kahl told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They continue to give us access to Pakistani airspace and we are in conversation about keeping that access open.”

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2021

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