Ajmal Ahmady is still disoriented by how rapidly Afghanistan’s US-backed government collapsed to the Taliban.
“The situation fell apart very rapidly,” Ahmady, the Harvard-trained economist who led Afghanistan’s central bank, told CNN. “Even on Sunday morning, I was still at my desk working.”
But as reports came in that Taliban fighters had entered the city and prisoners were being released, Ahmady left his office for the airport.
“Things really fell apart around 4 pm, when it was announced that the president was no longer in country. At that point, there was a scramble for seats on the plane,” Ahmady said. “It was a surreal experience.”
Speaking from an undisclosed location outside of Afghanistan where he’s safe with his family, Ahmady told CNN he feared for his own safety.
“Once the president of a country announces that he’s no longer in country, the whole chain of command falls apart. There’s no police, there’s no air traffic controllers, it’s every person for themselves at that stage,” Ahmady said. “Having a boarding pass for a flight doesn’t mean anything at that stage…There was just complete chaos at the airport.”
No ticket and no shoe
Eventually, Ahmady said he forced his way onto a flight that he didn’t have a ticket to. He fled the country, whose economy he presided over just hours before, with one shoe and no bags.
“I was very fortunate to get out,” he said, adding that he hopes the United States will successfully evacuate Afghan citizens who supported America over the years.
Ahmady, formerly an economic adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, criticized Ghani for leaving Kabul so abruptly — a decision Ghani said was made to avoid further bloodshed.
“It was shock, complete shock. I couldn’t believe it,” Ahmady said. “There had always been talk of staying until the bitter end and fighting. For him to leave without senior staff or other staff or making a speech or informing the public, I think that was not the right decision.”
Of course, Ahmady himself left soon afterward — leaving Afghanistan without one of its brightest economic minds at a moment of great economic peril.
Ahmady said he left because he “absolutely” feared for his own life.
First, he was skeptical the Taliban would keep its promises to provide amnesty for government and military officials. “Based on their deeds thus far,” he said, “I did not believe those” promises.
Secondly, Ahmady pointed to reforms he made over the years that had been unpopular with some.
“I had made a lot of enemies along the way,” he said. “And in a situation where there’s no president, there’s no rule of law in that transition period…anyone can make an accusation.”
Asked how the US-backed Afghan government collapsed as quickly as it did, Ahmady said “there’s enough blame to go around.”
He pointed to “lapses in governance,” highlighted by Ghani’s decision to flee the country. Ahmady also cited the agreement signed last year between the United States and the Taliban — a deal that excluded the government of Afghanistan.
Ghani has denied rumors that he left the country with a large amount of money as a “baseless lie.”
“These accusations were all unsubstantiated and untrue, and I refuse them. I reject them, with strong words,” Ghani said in a statement delivered from the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.
Ahmady said that while he was not on the plane with Ghani, he knows Afghanistan was facing extreme shortages of dollars at that moment, as it is today.
“Unless he had an alternative source of cash available to him, I would be skeptical of that report, although I cannot deny it,” Ahmady said.
Asked if the money could have come from the central bank, Ahmady said “absolutely not” and pointed out the central bank’s international reserves are easily monitored.
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