Why Ashraf Ghani and a Long List of Former Leaders Chose United Arab Emirates for Refuge

Afghanistan’s President, driven out by the Taliban, is the latest leader on the run to turn up in the United Arab Emirates. Others who found refuge in UAE include Spain’s disgraced former king and two Thai Prime Ministers.

Earlier this month, the UAE announced it had accepted hosting Ghani and his family, citing humanitarian grounds — even as members of his own government slammed the Afghan president for his escape from Kabul.

But why UAE?

The Gulf Arab state has close security partnerships with the United States and have taken in political fugitives and exiled leaders on the run.

The skylines of Abu Dhabi offer an array of stunning high-rise towers and opulent five-star hotels. Man-made coastlines provide reclusive, palatial waterfront properties — plenty of options for political exiles looking for privacy and a place to park their money.

But most importantly, vast underground reserves of oil and gas provide near-guaranteed security to controversial, once powerful figures. Iris-scanning technology at the airport, untold numbers of security cameras, and widespread surveillance helps ensure protection — as does an autocratic grip on power.

It’s perhaps why Afghan President Ashraf Ghani surfaced in Abu Dhabi after the Taliban swept into Kabul.

What does UAE have in return?

The role of the UAE as hosts to wanted politicians and top figures gives them potential leverage — political chips that can be played or held for a later date.

The UAE is also staging grounds for key U.S. military operations. Americans also fly out of the al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi.

“Each country is positioning itself in the best way possible to pursue its interests in this crisis,” senior Mideast adviser at Crisis Group, Dina Esfandiary told AP.

The UAE aims to show its ally the United States that it too is a reliable partner, she said.

From his new base in the UAE, Ghani released a video statement Wednesday, for the first time since escaping Kabul. He made a point of mentioning he was forced to leave Afghanistan “with one set of traditional clothes, a vest and the sandals” he was wearing.

Who else has sought refuge in UAE?

Ghani joins a roster of high-profile exiles who’ve sought shelter in the UAE in past years. Some have resided in Abu Dhabi, others in the UAE’s commercial and tourism hub of Dubai.

Siblings and former Thai prime ministers, Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra — the former ousted in a military coup amid charges of corruption, the other fleeing a criminal conviction — are among them.

For years before her return to Pakistan where she was assassinated in 2007, so did ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Another ex-Pakistani prime minister, Pervez Musharraf, maintains his base as Dubai. He was sentenced at home to death for treason, a sentence that a high Pakistani court later annulled.

Others include former Spanish King Juan Carlos, who is facing financial probe; Palestinian figure Mohammed Dahlan, who was banished by his party and sentenced to prison, and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the eldest son of Yemen’s longtime leader who was also assassinated.

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