WASHINGTON: A text message and a call from a Pakistani number persuaded Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib to leave Afghanistan with former president Ashraf Ghani and his family, says a report in The New Yorker magazine on Monday.

The message came around one O’clock on Aug 15, the day Taliban fighters seized Kabul. Khalil Haqqani, a leader of the Taliban faction named for his family, wished to speak with Mohib. He took the call from Haqqani who asked him to “surrender.”

Haqqani said they could meet after Mohib issued an appropriate statement. When Mohib proposed that they negotiate first, Haqqani repeated himself and hung up. “Mohib called Tom West, a deputy to (Ambassador Zalmay) Khalilzad in Doha, to inform him of the call West told him not to go to any meeting because it might be a trap,” the report added.

Read more: FO accuses Afghan official of trying to damage peace talks

Earlier that day, Mohib joined President Ghani and a diplomat from the UAE on a lawn beside the President’s office to discuss a possible evacuation plan.

As they discussed the plan, they heard gunshots coming from somewhere outside the palace grounds and Ghani’s bodyguards hustled him inside.

At noon, Mohib joined Ghani in his library and agreed that Rula, Ghani’s wife, and nonessential staff should leave for the UAE as soon as possible.

Mohib’s UAE contacts offered seats on an Emirates Airlines flight scheduled to depart Kabul at four that afternoon.

President Ghani asked Mohib to escort Rula to Dubai, then join the negotiating team in Doha, to finalise talks with Khalilzad and Mullah Baradar, the Taliban leader in Doha, about the handover of Kabul.

Mohib returned to Ghani’s residence at around two, escorted Rula to a helipad behind the Dilkusha palace. They were to fly to Hamid Karzai International Airport, to make the Emirates flight.

Also read: Ghani pledged to fight till death but fled, says Blinken

By then, three of the President’s Mi-17s were at the Arg Palace and the fourth was at the airport. Mohib learned that the pilots had fully fuelled the helicopters because they wanted to fly directly to Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, as soon as possible. Other Afghan military pilots seeking refuge had already used this route to escape.

According to the New Yorker report, pilots refused to go to the airport with Rula as they had heard that rogue Afghan soldiers were seizing or grounding helicopters there.

While they were still discussing these options, Qahar Kochai, the head of the Presidential guard, approached Mohib and said: “If you leave, you will be endangering the President’s life.”

Mohib asked Kochai if he wanted him to stay. “No, I want you to take the President with you,” Kochai replied.

“Mohib doubted that all of Ghani’s bodyguards would remain loyal if the Taliban entered the palace grounds, and Kochai indicated that he did not have the means to protect the President,” the magazine reported.

“Mohib helped Rula onto the President’s helicopter and asked her to wait. With Kochai, he drove back to the residence,” found Ghani standing inside and said: “Mr. President, it’s time. We must go.”

Ghani wanted to go upstairs to collect some belongings, but Mohib “worried that every minute they delayed they risked touching off a panic and a revolt by armed guards. Ghani climbed into a car, without so much as his passport,” the report added.

As the staff and bodyguards saw the president leaving, they scuffled and shouted over who would fly. The pilots said that each helicopter could carry only six passengers.

Along with Ghani, Rula, and Mohib, nine other officials squeezed aboard, as did members of Ghani’s security detail and they flew to Uzbekistan.

In Doha that morning, Ambassador Khalilzad was discussing a surrender plan with Mullah Baradar at the Ritz-Carlton. Mullah Baradar “agreed that they will not enter Kabul” and would withdraw what Baradar described as “some hundreds” of Taliban who had already entered the capital.

Ambassador Khalilzad was in WhatsApp contact with Abdul Salam Rahimi, an aide to President Ghani, and informed Rahimi of this plan. Rahimi told Ghani that the Taliban had pledged not to enter Kabul.

“Yet this was based on assurances from Khalilzad and the Taliban, and Ghani regarded both as unreliable sources,” the report noted.

As Ghani flew to Uzbekistan, Rahimi and dozens of other Arg palace staffers — who had no idea where Ghani or Mohib had gone — were left behind, while still negotiating a deal with the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2021

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