The U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed in February 2020, paved the way for the fall of Afghanistan into the Taliban’s hands, former Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib told VOA in an exclusive interview.
When asked to explain why his government dissolved in a matter of days in August as Taliban forces swept across the country ahead of the U.S. withdrawal, Mohib blamed the three-year-long direct negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban.
The talks, said the former Afghan official, “absolutely sent a signal that the Taliban were returning.”
Mohib, who served as Afghanistan’s national security adviser from August 2018 to the fall of Kabul, said that former President Ashraf Ghani decided to flee the country after his government lost control over its security forces.
“It was the moment that the president left as his life was in danger,” he told VOA.
He said his government had "reliable" intelligence that the Taliban “planned to come and hang the president,” adding that similar intelligence was shared by “the U.S. and some other open sources.”
The U.S. State Department declined to respond to Mohib’s claims, saying officials do not comment on intelligence matters. However, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described his conversations with Ghani in an interview with CBS News in October. Blinken said that the day before Ghani fled the country, he assured Blinken that he would stay and “he was ready to fight to the death.”
Explaining Kabul’s fall
The U.S. and Taliban signed the peace agreement on February 28, 2020, which outlined a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban concessions to enter political talks with the Afghan government and to deny outside terrorist groups the use of Afghan territory.
For months, Afghan and U.S. leaders spoke about preparations for the final American withdrawal, which President Joe Biden later pushed back to August. At the time, U.S. intelligence and Afghan officials believed it would take at least several months after American troops left for Taliban fighters to threaten the capital. They hoped a negotiated power-sharing agreement could take shape in the meantime.
Instead, the Taliban arrived in the capital on August 15, days before the completion of the American withdrawal. Ghani and Mohib had already fled the country with a few other officials as the Afghan government collapsed.
In an exclusive interview with VOA Urdu, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, blamed Ghani’s departure for the fall of Kabul.
“Certainly, there was a chance" to reach a power-sharing plan, Khalilzad told VOA.
The Taliban agreed, he said, to negotiate with an Afghan government delegation to form an inclusive government. “But the same day that this agreement was announced, without many of his inner circle knowing, he [Ghani] departed Afghanistan for Uzbekistan and then U.A.E.”
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who met Ghani a day before the fall of Kabul, also said that the then-president agreed to send a delegation to reach an agreement for peaceful transition of power.
Karzai said that when Ghani left the country, he "invited" the Taliban to come to Kabul to protect the city.
Mohib, however, maintained that “there were no guarantees” that the Taliban would accept a negotiated outcome.
“Even the day that the Taliban entered Kabul, it was not clear whether the Taliban would sit down for negotiations with the government negotiation team,” said the former Afghan national security adviser.
He added that Abdullah Abdullah, the then-chairperson of the High Council for National Reconciliation, who returned from Doha after negotiating with the Taliban, said that the Taliban “do not believe in peace.”
Mohib said that he talked to Khalil Haqqani, the current Taliban acting minister of refugees and repatriations, who called for "surrender."
“[He said] first surrender and then we will negotiate,” said Mohib.
Mohib added that his government wanted to avoid fighting in Kabul that “would destroy the city and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”
In a statement after fleeing Kabul, Ghani said that “leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life, but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her 6 million citizens.”
Mona Shah and Cindy Saine contributed to this report.