Central Bank Governor Ajmal Ahmady flees for his life
By Ricky Browne
As the Taliban is in resurgence and is on the verge of being recognised as the government of Afghanistan, the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from that country appears to signal a world power that is in decline.
True there may have been signs of this before, with US President Donald Trump alienating allies and having an isolationist policy of ‘America First’ stepping back from a world leadership role.
Other world leaders didn’t quite know how to handle him – and could be seen discussing him and his demeanour in amazement at G7 meetings. There was no doubt significant relief on their side, when Biden was voted into power in November last year.
But while there may have been some fear and little respect for President Trump, these world leaders seem to have no fear and even less respect for this milk toast President, who is old enough to be their father in many cases.
No sitting US president has been as old as President Joe Biden who is now looking at his ninth decade and is the same age cohort as former leaders like Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Cuba’s Fidel and then Raul Castro.
And unlike Trump, there are no forceful figures on his team – no one seems to either want or have the ability to outshine the President.
The result is that world leaders who were first forced to find their own way without a US President to guide them when Trump was in power, now find that they can ignore this president to a large degree.
So the UK seems to be leading the global charge against climate change and Germany feels free to open a new fuel pipeline with Russia – something it could not do with Trump in power.
But the bad news for Afghanistan is that the US is still so strong that other Nato powers can not contemplate staying in the country for an hour longer than the US. Attempts by Britain to cobble together a Nato force to try and maintain the peace failed.
And the president who likes to say “America is back” has shown that he has as much empathy as Trump, when it comes to considering non-Americans.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learnt the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.” Joe Biden said in his address last night. He returned to Washington from his holiday to make the statement.
Biden didn’t refer much to the chaos going on inside Afghanistan, and laid blame at the feet of former President Donald Trump as well as at the feet of the Afghans themselves for not putting up a fight. Trump’s deal with the Taliban to withdraw by May 1 forced the new president’s hand, Biden said.
“Its wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not” Biden said.
Americans had tired of their troops remaining in Afghanistan, and Republicans and Democrats seemed to be united in the idea of bringing them back home.
But the shameful way that the US is withdrawing from the country has brought comparisons to Saigon in 1975, and is likely to haunt the American psyche and feeling of worth for decades.
The inability of the Americans to withdraw in an orderly way will make people the world over question both the morality and strength of the US.
Terrorists may now see the US as an easy target. The king of the jungle is now too old to command the kind of respect it once had as its natural right.
There were reports that there could be as much as 10,000 US citizens in Afghanistan at the moment. Some estimates say as many as 40,000.
The UK is said to have 900 citizens in Afghanistan and about 1600 Afghans who also qualify for evacuation, having worked for the UK forces and whose lives are at risk. Today UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that more than 20,000 Afghans would be welcomed to the UK.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson went on his holiday on Saturday, as the situation in Afghanistan unravelled – but was back in Downing Street on Monday, and parliament reconvened today.
That same Saturday Ash Ghani fled the country for Uzbekistan, reportedly with a large amount of cash – so large, that he may have had to leave US$5 million on the runway as there was no room on his helicopter. It is said that he left with as much as US$150 million.
You know that when you flee to Uzbekistan that things must be looking pretty bad for you – hopefully US$150 million can help. But other reports say that he has fled to Dubai, which may offer a higher level of comfort.
His sudden and secret departure intensified the fear level of Afghans in Kabul, increasing the number of people who tried any means possible to get to the airport and get on a flight out to anywhere.
Among them was Ajmal Ahmady, the Harvard-trained governor of the central bank, — Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) — who made several posts on Twitter about the run up to his own departure.
He published his first tweet on August 16.
“1/ The collapse of the Government in Afghanistan this past week was so swift and complete – it was disorienting and difficult to comprehend. This is how the events seemed to proceed from my perspective as Central Bank Governor.”
“2/ Although much of the rural areas fell to the Taliban over the past few months, the first provincial capital to fall was just 1 week and two days ago!
On Friday August 6th, Ziranj fell. Over the next 6 days, a number of other provinces fell – particularly in the north.”
“3/There were multiple rumors that directions to not fight were somehow coming from above. This has been repeated by Atta Noor and Ismael Khan. Seems difficult to believe, but there remains a suspicion as to why ANSF left posts so quickly. There is something left unexplained.”
With that he retweeted a comment from Ata Mohammad Noor, the leader of Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan and former Governor of Balkh Province.
“Despite our firm resistance, sadly, all the government & the #ANDSF equipments were handed over to the #Taliban as a result of a big organised & cowardly plot. They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed.
“Marshal Dostum, myself, Balkh Govenor, Balkh MPs, Head of Balkh Provincial Council and few other officials are in a safe place now. I have a lot of untold stories that I will share in due course. Thanking all who proudly resisted to defend their land. Our path won’t end here,” tweeted Noor.
Fast forward to Saturday, when Ahmady said:
“8/On Saturday night, my family called to say that most government had already left. I was dumbfounded. A security assessment accurately forecast Taliban arrival to Kabul within 36 hours and its fall within 56 hours I got worried & purchased tickets for Monday as a precaution.”
By Sunday he felt his life was in danger.
9/On Sunday I began work. Reports throughout morning were increasingly worrisome. I left the bank and left deputies in charge. Felt terrible about leaving staff. But arrived at airport & saw that Mohaqeq, Rahmani, Massoud, etc were already there! Head of parliament seems content.”
At the airport he got a flight out leaving at 7:00 PM on Kam Air. But then the situation got even worse.
“Then the floor fell: the President had already left,” he tweeted.
“11/I knew right then my flight would be cancelled and there would be chaos. As expected employees & military left posts. Everyone ran through gates to on Kam Air flight. 300+ passengers boarded for a 100-seat plane. The plane had no fuel or pilot. We all hoped it would depart.”
Realising that it might not be able to take off, he got off the plane.
“12/However, I decided to disembark and spotted another military plane. It was surrounded by people trying to board, while the guard forces held people back and boarded their embassy staff. There was a rush. Some shots were fired. Somehow, my close colleagues pushed me on board.”
“13/It did not have to end this way. I am disgusted by the lack of any planning by Afghan leadership. Saw at airport them leave without informing others. I asked the palace if there was an evacuation plan/charter flights. After 7 years of service, I was met with silence.”
“14/During last days, I feared not only risks related to Taliban, but fear of transition period once there is no chain of command. Once president’s departure was announced, I knew within minutes chaos would follow. I cannot forgive him for creating that without a transition plan.”
He did take some of the blame too:
“15/ I did not criticize them until now, but key figures Fazly & Mohib were too inexperienced in their roles, & was President’s failure that he never recognized such weaknesses. He himself had great ideas but poor execution. If I contributed to that, I take my share of the blame.”
He was lucky to get out, and now feels powerless.
“And this. I will be trying to support any requests for assistance, but worry that given my personal experience at airport that any support for friends and colleagues be limited.”
But if he hadn’t left, he might now be dead.
“Did I have a reason to worry? This is the text someone sent me: “Taliban come to <area> and were looking for you. They were asking about Ajmal Ahmady DAB Governor.” Whatever their personal views, I also had many personal enemies. Or maybe they just wanted to greet me.”
He then went on to predict big economic problems for the Taliban, as the US has frozen its accounts abroad and halted the shipping of cash, meaning that although Afghanistan is supposed to have US$10 billion in assets, the coffers in the country are bare.
“Therefore, we can say the accessible funds to the Taliban are perhaps 0.1-0.2% of Afghanistan’s total international reserves. Not much Without Treasury approval, it is also unlikely that any donors would support the Taliban Government.”
He says that the treasury will need to freeze assets, that the Taliban will have to implement capital controls and limit US dollar access, that this will result in a depreciation of the Afghan currency, resulting in high inflation. “This will hurt the poor as food prices increase,” he said.
So pity the Taliban as they try to hold together a country that economically will be falling apart at the seams. At least they will have increased might on their side, thanks to the top class military equipment that the US has left behind.
But it doesn’t bode well for Afghanistan’s future – even if the Taliban is a more moderate force than it was in the 1990s.
Maybe, the Taliban will believe that if it holds onto a couple thousand hostages from the US and elsewhere, it may be able to convince the US to unfreeze those assets.
This turn of events alone is enough reason for anyone holding a Western passport to get out of Afghanistan immediately, if they hadn’t already come to that conclusion.