Afghanistan’s former President, Ashraf Ghani, is in the United Arab Emirates, its foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday. News of his whereabouts comes days after he fled Kabul as the Taliban closed in on the city.
“The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds,” the ministry said.
In a Facebook video message shared on Wednesday, Ghani reiterated that he left the country to avoid bloodshed. He also wanted to prevent Afghanistan from becoming like Syria and Yemen, and avert “dreadful disaster” of “being hanged” had he remained in office.
“The decision was made that whatever happened 25 years ago would be repeated if I had stayed the President of Afghanistan. I would have been hanged in front of the eyes of the people of Afghanistan and this would have been a dreadful disaster in our history,” he said.
He also rejected accusations that he left the country with a large amount of money, calling it a “baseless lie.”
“These accusations were all unsubstantiated and untrue, and I refuse them. I reject them, with strong words,” Ghani said.
His departure was precipitated by the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, which opened a clear path for the Taliban to take on and defeat the Afghan security forces. Last week, major cities and provinces fell to Taliban fighters with little to no resistance.
US intelligence analysts had predicted it would take several weeks before the civilian government in Kabul fell to the Taliban. But on August 15, the Taliban took control of the presidential palace in the capital while Ghani quietly made his exit.
Ghani’s abrupt departure was criticized for leaving Afghans to an uncertain fate under the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s then acting defense minister, General Bismillah Mohammadi, slammed Ghani in a brief tweet Sunday, writing: “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland, damn the rich man and his gang.”
Afghan Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, said on Sunday that God would hold Ghani “accountable and the people of Afghanistan will also judge him” for putting them and the country “in such a bad situation.”
The former president defended his move on Wednesday, explaining that events had unfolded in a “hasty way” and he had been working to ensure a peaceful transition of power with the Taliban.
“Those who think that I fled the country, my message is that you should not judge if you do not have all the information and details,” he said.
His departure was followed by desperate scenes on Monday at Hamid Karzai International Airport, where crowds of Afghans poured onto the tarmac and clung onto military planes as they searched for a way out of Taliban rule.
Chaos resumed on Wednesday even though the US military had gained control inside the airport. A CNN team heard gunshots outside the airport, while thousands tried to make their way into it, with no real clarity from the US or the Taliban as to how to enter the facility.
This was compounded by the Pentagon and State Department issuing conflicting statements on Wednesday about the ability of US citizens and Afghans to reach the Kabul airport. The Pentagon has said the Taliban is “guaranteeing safe passage to the airport for American citizens.”
But the State Department said it could not ensure safe transit to the airfield – and a few hours later, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters: “We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport.
The fate of countless Afghans who worked with the US and its allies hang in the balance as they find themselves fearing retribution from the Taliban while mired in the bureaucratic nightmare of visa applications to Western countries.
The situation adds a sour note to the Taliban’s charm offensive this week, where its officials have attempted to strike a moderate tone as they offered details of their new government through televised briefings, statements and press conferences.
On Tuesday, they made assurances that retribution was not in the cards, that properties would not be confiscated and that women would be allowed to work and study within the framework of Islamic law.
But their early promises are being undermined by their response to protest, and the accounts from women living in the country.
In the eastern city of Jalalabad, Taliban fighters clashed violently with protesters who removed the group’s flag from the main square and replaced it with the Afghan flag, three witnesses told CNN.
The Taliban fired into the crowd in response, beating up some of the demonstrators.
“I wanted to support the Afghan flag and stop the Taliban from desecrating the Afghan flag,” one protester said. “Then the shooting started and the Taliban surrounded me and threatened and beat me.”
CNN has not been able to independently verify whether there were any casualties and the Taliban have not commented on the incident.
Despite the partial assurances from the Taliban’s leadership, high profile female journalists have reported being visited by the Taliban and receiving threatening calls from the group.
The latest comes from journalist Shabnam Dawran, who said in a Twitter video shared on Wednesday that she had been barred from entering her workplace and was warned not to continue her job.
Darwan, who is an anchor at state broadcaster, Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA), said since the Taliban has come into power she has not been allowed to enter her office.
“Unfortunately, I was not permitted although I had an [ID] too. Our male colleagues were able to go to the office by showing the [ID] card,” she said in the video shared by Miraqa Popal, head of Afghan news channel TOLO News.
“I was warned that you cannot continue with your job as the regime has changed. Here there are major threats against us. If people of the world hear my voice, if charitable organizations hear my voice, they should help us because our life is at great risk,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Taliban’s leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, called for all “political detainees” to be released across Afghanistan.
“All state governors must – from tomorrow – release all political detainees (old and young) without any restrictions or conditions, and hand them over to their families,” a Taliban twitter account posted Wednesday.
Taliban fighters that the Afghan National Security forces imprisoned for engaging in insurgent activities are expected to be among the released inmates.
The Taliban has already taken control of key prisons across the country and freed thousands of inmates during its offensive. Hundreds of inmates were released from Pul-e-Charki prison, east of Kabul, on Sunday, just hours before the Taliban took control of the capital.
Pul-e-Charki was the largest prison in Afghanistan when Bagram airfield closed and contained a maximum-security block which housed alleged ISIS fighters, Al Qaeda members and senior Taliban figures.
CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Celine Alkhaldi, Ghazi Balkiz, Nicole Gaouette, Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood, Oren Liebermann and Nada Bashir contributed to this report.