Dark horse shoots for Afghan pres­i­dency

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY JA­SON MOT­LAGH

KABUL, Afghanistan | Ashraf Ghani says he is run­ning for Afghan pres­i­dent with plenty of ideas, if not cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions.

Mr. Ghani, who is the lead­ing chal­lenger to Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, said Afghanistan needs “vi­sion and man­age­ment” as well as se­cu­rity. And the for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter and World Bank of­fi­cial said he can pro­vide it.

Afghan politi­cians “keep ask­ing for more money without be­ing able to spend it prop­erly,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times in a re­cent in­ter­view in his Kabul home.

U.S. aid to the Afghan gov­ern­ment — more than $60 bil­lion since 2001 — can be made more ef­fec­tive by fo­cus­ing on in­fra­struc­ture and job cre­ation, in tur n re­duc­ing Afghanistan’s de­pen­dency on for­eign money over time, he said.

He cited fig­ures show­ing that the gov­ern­ment loses 70 per­cent of its rev­enue each year through waste, mis­man­age­ment and cor­rup­tion.

The pres­i­den­tial cam­paign co­in­cides with a buildup of U.S. troops or­dered by Pres­i­dent Obama in an at­tempt to change the course of the war.

About 7,000 troops be­gan de­ploy­ing this week to south­ern Afghanistan, mainly to Hel­mand prov­ince, which is largely con­trolled by the Tal­iban and is the world’s largest opium-grow­ing re­gion.

Mr. Ghani said he wants to ac­com­pany a mil­i­tary turn­around with an eco­nomic re­vival that is driven by agri­cul­tural ex­por ts, min­ing and hy­dropower.

The fo­cus on hy­dropower could make Afghanistan a re­gional provider of elec­tric­ity in­stead of a net im­porter. This would re­quire im­proved con­nec­tiv­ity to re­source-hun­gry neigh­bors such as China.

In Novem­ber, a Chi­nese com­pany won a con­tract to mine cop­per by in­vest­ing nearly $3 bil­lion in in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing an elec­tric­ity plan and rail­road spur to Ta­jik­istan that would cre­ate thou­sands of jobs.

Asked about the in­sur­gent threat to back­coun­try projects, Mr. Ghani said “spa­tial clus­ters” of growth, ini­tially fo­cused in eight sta­ble north­ern prov­inces, would cre­ate a “mul­ti­plier ef­fect.”

With time, he said, th­ese clus­ters will over­lap and al­low in­vestors to push deeper into at-risk ar­eas in the South and East.

As an ex­am­ple of what is pos­si­ble, Mr. Ghani cited two telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies that were at first hes­i­tant to pay for $5 mil­lion li­censes.

They are now worth more than $600 mil­lion with more than 1 mil­lion sub­scr ibers each, Mr. Ghani said. Three other firms have joined the mar­ket, which has at­tracted $1 bil­lion in pri­vate in­vest­ments.

To­day, Afghanistan ranks among the world’s most cor­rupt and least de­vel­oped coun­tries, be­set by eco­nomic woes and ram­pant drug traf­fick­ing that give trac­tion to the Tal­iban-led in­sur­gency.

De­spite Mr. Ghani’s best ef­forts, Mr. Karzai is ex­pected to win the Aug. 18 vote, partly be­cause of a flurry of agree­ments with po­ten­tial op­po­nents in the past month.

Some West­ern com­men­ta­tors are con­vinced that Mr. Karzai has al­ready won.

Mr. Ghani re­jected the fore­cast as one of “an­a­lysts who are bound in em­bassies.”

“No one can deny what the prob­lems are any­more,” he said. “I’m chal­leng­ing [Mr. Karzai] with noth­ing in the way of ma­te­rial re­sources, but with ideas and vol­un­teers.”

He has not ruled out a pos­si­ble part­ner­ship with the only other high-pro­file chal­lenger,

If elected, Mr. Ghani said he would talk to Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Most rank-and-file mil­i­tants can be won over with a job, he said, com­par­ing them to his “16-year-old stu­dents.” Hard-core el­e­ments that con­tinue to tar­get the state, mean­while, “must be con­fronted from a po­si­tion of strength.”

Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, a for­mer for­eign min­is­ter who has also fallen out with the pres­i­dent.

As fi­nance min­is­ter from 2002 to 2004, Mr. Ghani won praise for re­forms and largescale de­vel­op­ment projects. He cre­ated a new cur­rency un­der a cen­tral­ized rev­enue sys­tem and over­hauled the bud­get and cus­toms sys­tems, mak­ing the gov­ern­ment more ac­count­able to the Afghan peo­ple and in­ter­na­tional donors. At one stretch, he even worked for free.

Af­ter his de­par ture, he served as chan­cel­lor of Kabul Uni­ver­sity.

In 2006, he was a can­di­date to be­come sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions. A steady pres­ence at in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences, he churns out pa­pers and op-ed con­tri­bu­tions on na­tion-build­ing and he co-au­thored a re­cent book, “Fix­ing Failed States.”

On se­cu­rity strat­egy, Mr. Ghani praised the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for what he called a “uni­fied ap­proach” to coun­terin­sur­gency that rec­og­nizes the need to fo­cus on Pak­istan and Afghanistan and reaches out to civil­ians.

How­ever, he stressed that air strikes and other heavy­handed tac­tics that kill civil­ians are self-de­feat­ing.

“Coun­terin­sur­gency can ac­com­mo­date coun­tert­er­ror, but not the other way around,” he said, not­ing that “months of care­ful coun­terin­sur­gency can be un­done in day by one sin­gle” mis­take.

If elected, Mr. Ghani said he would talk to Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Most rank-and-file mil­i­tants can be won over with a job, he said, com­par­ing them to his “16-year-old stu­dents.” Hard­core el­e­ments that con­tinue to tar­get the state, mean­while, “must be con­fronted from a po­si­tion of strength.”

While no one ques­tions his in­tel­lec­tual gifts, crit­ics won­der how much clout Mr. Ghani would com­mand in deal­ing with the Tal­iban and in­flu­en­tial war­lords. There are also doubts over the ex­tent of his ru­ral sup­port base. Un­til re­cently, he was a U.S. ci­ti­zen who in­vari­ably donned a suit and tie.

Seated in his Kabul liv­ing room in tra­di­tional at­tire, he ap­peared the na­tive son, flanked by a glass case of boltac­tion ri­fles. A dog roamed among young saplings out­side.

Mr. Ghani said Afghans are fa­mil­iar with his ini­tia­tives such as a Na­tional Sol­i­dar­ity Pro­gram, which dis­pensed more than $500 mil­lion in World Bank aid to 23,000 vil­lages.

While il­lit­er­acy may be high, so is po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness in a coun­try that has ex­pe­ri­enced lit­tle respite from war in the past three decades.

“The av­er­age Afghan lis­tens to four ra­dio sta­tions a day. We are nei­ther ig­no­rant nor stupid,” he said.

JA­SON MOT­LAGH / THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

For­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Ashraf Ghani is chal­leng­ing Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, say­ing: Afghan politi­cians “keep ask­ing for more money without be­ing able to spend it prop­erly.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.