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Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani Has Left The Country


I want to add another voice to this conversation, NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Hey, Jackie.


KEITH: So Jane is describing this sort of surreal scene of something of a handover to the Taliban. Do you have any sense of what's going on in terms of negotiations about what the next government of Afghanistan might look like with President Ghani skipping town?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, there's sort of mixed messages going on out there. You know, Afghan government ministers are saying, you know, yes, we want sort of a transformative government or a transitional government. But then you have the Taliban saying, no, we just want, you know, full control here, you know, very quickly as well. So I don't know. There are, you know, negotiations yet again going on in Doha about Afghanistan and what to do. But Jane can probably attest to this is that all the negotiations there just seem to be sort of a kabuki dance, you know, because what's happening there doesn't actually illustrate what's happening on the ground. And there seems to be some sort of disconnect, you know, between the Taliban's political wing, if you like, and its forces, its fighters on the ground, which lead people once again to think that there are real divisions, you know, within the Taliban itself. So I can only imagine what's going on. I've been in these situations before. You know, there's just so much happening. There's a lot of rumors, and nobody really knows what's going to happen.


But separate from Doha, is there some effort to be coordinating some sort of - who's trying to fill that vacuum? And maybe Jackie can go first. And, Jane, I'd like to hear you on this as well.

NORTHAM: Sure. I was going to say, you know, I mean, the U.S. still wants some sort of say in this, you know, after all they've put in the country and, you know, for security reasons and that. But I don't think they have a lot of leverage with the Taliban who now have the upper hand, obviously. There are other countries involved. Negotiations earlier this week involved, you know, China, Russia, Qatar, you know, with a broad swath of countries trying to sort this out. And I think the story has just moved along too much. The Taliban are going to be in control.

CORNISH: Jane, what are you hearing? We were seeing a series of tweets from the former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, talking about what's going on with the negotiating team and the players who might be involved in the coming days.

JANE FERGUSON: It's really unclear. Like you say, there's this disconnect between negotiations between politicians and the reality on the ground. I think it's very likely that the Taliban themselves, their leadership, their political leadership, whether they're in Doha or they've managed to make it back to Kabul yet, will be very keen to shore up this gain and not see chaos in the city. But whether or not they're going to be able to implement that is really unclear. They will want to come in and make it look like they can run a city like Kabul. They understand the concept, at least in lip service to things like, you know, human rights or trying to make themselves look like they could run a country and be a legitimate, internationally recognized administration.

But whether or not that's really going to translate on the ground with these troops that are coming in, who are angry, who've been fighting for decades, who view this very much so as the spoils of war, is going to be really, really tough. You know, we've spoken to the Taliban several times in the last two years where - and, you know, it's more junior field commanders in the field. As far as they're concerned, they view this very much as a victory and not as a transitional government or a negotiated settlement or however you wish to spin it. It really is a victory for them.

KEITH: The question I'm left with is, why was it so easy for them? I mean, obviously, they have been sort of biding their time and gaining strength as these peace negotiations went on. But it just seems like they've been able to roll through the country, taking provincial capital after provincial capital and Ghani leaving the country with, you know, without a fight.

FERGUSON: It doesn't appear as though those were military victories, that those were battles that happened and one side won. It appears as though, you know, a big part of what was behind how rapid the fall of all these cities and provinces was was simply that very often there was a surrender. There were deals done. I mean, don't forget that the Afghan national security forces have been deeply demoralized - you know, lack of pay, delays in salaries, very low salaries, poorly equipped, massive problems. Corruption is a problem in that it's kind of rotten the government of Afghanistan from the inside out. And I think that's what we saw collapsing more, this sense that what was it that they might be fighting for rather than, you know, these having been military victories. So I think that's what caused it to be so rapid.

CORNISH: Jackie Northam, we just have a short time left. We're hearing that France has moved its Kabul embassy to the airport. It was going to be deploying troop enforcements there. What are you going to be looking for in the next few days?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, a couple of things. One is the embassies, I think, might fall like dominoes anyway. If one gets out, I think we're going to see a lot of that. I think we're going to see in Kabul, you know, looting. There's a lawlessness going on. I think that's going to continue and that the Taliban will try and clamp down on that. But I think also they're going to try and seat themself into, you know, the seat of power, if you like. They want this to be a firm victory. They have Kabul now, and they want to solidify that, consolidate it, if you will.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jackie Northam and Jane Ferguson, correspondent with PBS NewsHour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.