Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly fled the country with four cars and a helicopter full of cash and had to leave some money on the tarmac as it was difficult to fit all in, according to the Russian embassy in Kabul.
As the Taliban fighters closed in on Kabul on Sunday, Mr Ghani left Afghanistan for an unknown destination. He wrote on Facebook later that he decided to leave the country to avoid bloodshed.
The 72-year-old academic and politician was backed by the US-led coalition forces since he took power in 2014.
But the US and Nato forces withdrew from Afghanistan in recent weeks after 20 years of fighting the Taliban, leaving Mr Ghani’s government trembling in the face of the Taliban’s swift military gains. The pace of the Taliban onslaught surprised the Afghan government’s Western allies and major powers in the region, leading to the group entering Kabul virtually unopposed.
On Monday, the RIA news agency quoted Nikita Ishchenko, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Kabul, as saying, “As for the collapse of the (outgoing) regime, it is most eloquently characterised by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan.”
“Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac,” he added.
Later, Mr Ishchenko confirmed his comments to Reuters news agency, citing “witnesses”. The Independent could not independently verify his account immediately.
But, in what seems to be a collective Russian government effort, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov alluded to the possibility that feeling government officials may have embezzled a large amount of money.
He said earlier it was unclear how much money the government officials would leave behind.
“I hope the government that has fled did not take all the money from the state budget. It will be the bedrock of the budget if something is left,” Kabulov told Moscow’s Ekho Moskvy radio station.
Experts say Moscow didn’t see Mr Ghani’s government as autonomous and was concerned over the massive influence the US has enjoyed over Kabul due to its military presence in Afghanistan. This was partly the reason for Russia’s policy of striking a balance in its relations with the government, the Taliban and other groups to retain its influence in case of the government’s collapse.
However, it still officially classifies the Taliban as a terrorist organisation.
Last month, at the peak of the Taliban rampage, Russia offered to broker a peace deal between the militant group and the government to establish “Afghanistan as a peaceful, independent and neutral state”.
But after Kabul has fallen to the Taliban, Russia has said it would retain a diplomatic presence in Kabul and hopes to develop ties with the group. But it also confirmed that it is in no rush to recognise them as the country’s rulers and will closely observe their behaviour.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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