Ex-Afghan leader Hamid Karzai says he invited the Taliban insurgents into the capital Kabul on August 15 so that "the city doesn't fall into chaos," following a covert departure of Ashraf Ghani and his team from the country.
Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai has said the Taliban didn't take the Kabul city on August 15 but they were invited by him to enter the Afghan capital after former president Ashraf Ghani and his team fled the country, creating a security vacuum.
In an Associated Press interview on Wednesday, Karzai offered some of the first insights into the secret and sudden departure of Ghani — and how he came to invite the Taliban into the city "to protect the population so that the country, the city doesn't fall into chaos and the unwanted elements who would probably loot the country, loot shops."
Karzai said when Ghani fled, his security officials also left, adding defence minister Bismillah Khan even asked him if he wanted to leave Kabul when he contacted him to know what remnants of the government still remained.
It turned out there were none, not even the Kabul police chief had remained, Karzai said.
Karzai, who was the country's president for 13 years after the Taliban was first ousted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, said he refused to leave.
Karzai said that Ghani's flight scuttled a last-minute push by himself, the government's chief negotiator Abdullah Abdullah and the Taliban leadership in Doha that would have seen the Taliban enter the capital as part of a negotiated agreement.
The countdown to a possible deal began on August 14, the day before the Taliban came to power.
Karzai and Abdullah met Ghani, and they agreed that they would leave for Doha the next day with a list of 15 others to negotiate a power-sharing agreement.
The Taliban were already on the outskirts of Kabul, but Karzai said the leadership in Qatar promised the Taliban will remain outside the city until the deal was struck.
Early on the morning of August 15, Karzai said, he waited to draw up the list. The capital was fidgety, on edge. Rumors were swirling about a Taliban takeover. Karzai called Doha. He was told the Taliban would not enter the city.
At noon, the Taliban called to say that "the government should stay in its positions and should not move that they have no intention to (go) into the city," Karzai said.
"I and others spoke to various officials and assurances were given to us that, yes, that was the case, that the Americans and the government forces were holding firm to the places (and) that Kabul would not fall."
By about 2:45 pm, though, it became apparent Ghani had fled the city. Karzai said he called the defence minister, called the interior minister, searched for the Kabul police chief but everyone was gone.
"There was no official present at all in the capital, no police chief, no corps commander, no other units. They had all left."
Engagement with Taliban
Karzai said he meets regularly with the Taliban leadership and said the world must engage with them.
"Right now, they need to cooperate with the government in any form they can," said Karzai, who also bemoaned the unchallenged and sometimes wrong international perceptions of the Taliban.
He cited claims that women and girls are not allowed outside their homes or require a male companion.
"That's not true. There are girls on the streets — women by themselves. The situation on the ground in Kabul bears this out."