Ashraf Ghani, the former Afghanistan President who fled the country when the Taliban grabbed power in Kabul, was “a total fraud” solely focused on his own desire to stay in power and a big hurdle in any peace talks, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.
In his book titled ‘Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love,’ Pompeo claims that both Ghani and Afghanistan’s former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah were involved in corruption at the highest levels that limited the US’ ability to successfully exit the war-torn country in August 2021.
The United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31, ending its 20-year-old military presence in the country.
“As negotiations accelerated, Ghani was always a problem. I met scores of world leaders, and he was my least favourite. That’s saying a lot when you have Kim (Jong-un), Xi (Jinping), and (Vladimir) Putin in the mix. Yet Ghani was a total fraud who had wasted American lives and was focused solely on his own desire to stay in power,” Pompeo writes in his book that hit the bookstores this week.
“Never once did I sense that he was prepared to take a risk for his country that might imperil his power. This disgusted me,” he writes in the book that gives a detailed account of the negotiations that the previous US administration led by ex-President Donald Trump had with the Taliban group.
The Trump administration had appointed former diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as the special envoy for talks with the Taliban.
Pompeo claims that Ghani won his reelection mainly because of massive electoral fraud. “According to the final nominal tally, Ghani had defeated the country’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. But the truth was that Ghani simply had bribed more voters and vote counters than the other candidates had,” writes the former Secretary of State.
Pompeo says both Ghani and Abdullah were fighting about who would be the next president without regard for whether there would even be a government to lead in Afghanistan. “At General Miller’s request, I hopped a plane to Afghanistan on March 23, 2020, to tell them that they needed to find an accommodation, or I would advise President Trump that we should exit the country immediately, beginning with the elimination of the roughly USD 5-6 billion per year in foreign assistance that we were providing at the time,” he said.
This was a real threat, Pompeo notes. “While the public focus was almost always on how the aid provided security assistance, its larger purpose was to preserve civil order. It funded schools and health care, but it also meant ‘walking around money’ for local leaders. That’s a euphemism for bribery, and it’s the sad reality of both how American aid and Afghan society worked,” he said.
“My message got their attention. Eventually, we shaved off USD 1 billion in assistance to show we weren’t bluffing. In May, Abdullah essentially gave control to Ghani, and we had, at least, a head of the Afghan government,” he said.
After joining the Trump administration, Pompeo said, he assessed that Afghan low-level corruption secured a measure of stability, as it kept the country from completely unravelling, albeit at a staggering cost to the government’s credibility with its own people.
“The fact was that even Afghan’s president Ashraf Ghani and the country’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah both led cartels that stole millions of dollars in aid money from the United States. That corruption at the highest levels limited our ability to exit successfully,” Pompeo said.
Ghani, for all his eloquence and charm, was not the leader of a war-torn, deeply divided tribal nation seeking to build the political institutions needed, he said. “He was a dim bulb in his political instincts and a Brussels-style manager in a cauldron of violence that demanded an Ultimate Fighting Championship mindset. Nor did he have much credibility among Afghan leaders, nearly all of whom had been fighting in one war or another for their entire adult lives,” Pompeo said.
Ghani’s years in the West had made him masterful at gaming American lawmakers and nonprofit organizations, he claims. “He also spent extravagantly on lobbyists. I say with no exaggeration that Ghani had more friends inside the district of Columbia than he did in Afghanistan. When I met him the first time during my CIA days, I told him straight up: ‘You’re squandering your time on K Street and Capitol Hill when you should be hustling for allies in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif,’ Pompeo wrote.
Ghani, who has been living in exile in the UAE since the Taliban took over the Afghan capital Kabul on August 15, 2021, has, in the past, vehemently defended his move of fleeing the war-torn country, saying he left to stop further “bloodshed” by the Taliban.