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Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, was an irascible president who was unable to control his temper or his tongue when given facts he disagreed with, or worse: when challenged. His political moves were calculated to retain power. In this process he alienated many stakeholders, be it traditional leaders or technocrats.

A former finance minister and World Bank official, who has a doctorate in cultural anthropology, Ghani rose to power in 2014 when he won a presidential election marred by widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun from the eastern province of Logar, has always had the qualifications for the highest political office in Afghanistan. He had worked for the World Bank and the United Nations, and even wrote a book on how to fix failed states.

But he lacked the grassroots support of many of his rivals and Ghani's lengthy exile in the United States also earned him a reputation for being out of touch with ordinary Afghans. He surrounded himself with a cohort of Western-educated aides and advisers and isolated himself from key domestic stakeholders. Ghani was also accused of ethnic favoritism and of stoking tensions among the country's many ethnic groups.

Ghani won the 2014 Presidential election, partnered up with Sarwar Danish, a Hazara leader who has served as governor of Daikundi Province and as the country's minister of justice. Ghani's other running mate is General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord and a leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek community. Ghani ran in the 2009 election and fared poorly, winning only 3 percent of the vote. But teaming up with influential ethnic leaders may give Ghani a boost.

Ghani worked as a project director for many years at the World Bank. He served as Afghanistan's Interior Minister from 2002 to 2004, then took the position of Kabul University chancellor for a short time. He later ran the Institute of State Effectiveness, a think tank in Washington DC. The book, Fixing Failed States, by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) discusses the ten (10) critical functions performed by a State. Ghani was also a dark horse candidate in 2005 for UN Secretary General, a position eventually won by Ban Ki-moon. His name emerged in 2008 as one of the more prominent potential challengers to Karzai. The international community knows Ghani well, while his connections to his native Logar province could chip away at some Pashtun support base. However, there was little grassroots-level support for a Ghani candidacy. Ghani's patrician manner and his lengthy exile in the West give many Afghans the image of a leader out of touch with the plight of ordinary citizens. His short terms as finance minister and university chancellor also left many Afghan critics with the impression of someone unable to finish a job.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) reported that 44 candidates had submitted completed registration paperwork before the 08 May 2009 deadline. The high number of candidates easily topped the 18 entrants in the 2004 presidential election. Despite the large field, only a few candidates looked likely to attract measurable support: Karzai, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, and Deputy Lower House Speaker Mirwais Yaseni. Karzai, Ghani, and Yaseni are ethnic Pashtuns.

Ashraf Ghani, like Abdullah, failed to win support from other notable political movements and resorted to registering with little-known running mates Ayub Rafiqi and Qayum Nabizada. Ghani insisted he was committed to running a serious, high-profile campaign and renounced his US citizenship hours before registering. But as with other candidates, he needed to build a broad coalition over the summer if he expected to pose a serious challenge to Karzai. The Afghan public already identified several current and former candidates with specific issues and policy proposals. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah has credibility on foreign policy and reconciliation, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani on financial reform and anti-corruption, former Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali on security issues, and Lower House Deputy Speaker Mirwais Yaseni on improving relations between the Palace and Parliament.

On the first day of official campaigning, Ghani himself took a curious approach to voter outreach, granting an interview with CNN and authoring an op-ed column for international papers. Ghani added that he would soon publish his 335-page campaign manifesto, written in English, but recently translated into Dari and Pashto. Ghani promised to run an issues-based campaign, with particular focus on individual issues every 10 days. He will begin with corruption, highlighting the government's inability to account for missing customs revenue.

President Karzai's empty podium stood prominently between the twin lecterns of leading opponents Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah at a ground-breaking televised presidential debate in Afghanistan 23 July 2009. The debate was somber, issue-focused, and lacking in fireworks. Ghani articulated specific policy plans in a passionate, yet uncharistmatic way, according to several Embassy contacts. He underscored his dedication to national reconciliation and outlined details of his Taliban peace plan. He said Afghanistan needed more cooperation with its neighbors in trade, yet criticized foreign governments for their contributions to conflicts in Afghanistan. His rhetoric was also often populist, as when he promised "one million houses and one million jobs" for the people of Afghanistan. However, MP Isaac Gailani (Pashtun, pro-Abdullah) voiced concern that his often wonky message would be lost on the common man, and that in a county with a low level of public education, boiling down your message is particularly important.

In a televised August 10th debate in front of a live audience, presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah highlighted agriculture and natural resources as the keys to Afghanistan's economic future. Both candidates sketched their visions for increasing employment, emphasizing the importance of including women. Abdullah focused on poverty reduction through investment in water, energy, transit, natural resources, and agriculture. Ghani called for widening economic opportunity in eight "economic zones" and expanded governmental authority for six municipalities that would serve as models for municipal reform country-wide. President Karzai declined to participate. In a discursive presentation befitting a former Berkeley and Johns Hopkins professor, Ghani outlined problems that beset Afghanistan's economy, including capital flight, complicated tax structure, lack of transparency and infrastructure, landlocked status, and narcotics production.

In the election held on 20 August 2009 Hamid KARZAI was reelected president with 49.67% of the vote in the first round, Abdullah ABDULLAH 30.59%, Ramazan BASHARDOST 10.46%, Ashraf GHANI 2.94%; and others 6.34%. ABDULLAH conceded the election to KARZAI following the first round vote.

President Karzai's 19 November 2009 inuaguration ceremony emphasized his domestic and international legitimacy, possibly laying to rest his government's fears that their troubled electoral victory would come back to undermine his second term. Although second-place Dr. Abdullah did not attend the ceremony, Karzai singled him out several times in the speech, along with other presidential candidates, and asked that Abdullah participate in a future government in the spirit of unity. Third and fourth place candidates Mirwais Yasini and Ashraf Ghani were in attendance.

President Karzai subsequently asked Ashraf Ghani to play a leading role in developing a coherent national strategy in the anti-corruption area.

Ashraf Ghani later headed the Transition Coordination Commission. In November 2011, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the second group of regions that would begin the transition to Afghan-led security. This includes five provinces in their entirety and various districts and cities in 13 other provinces. By early 2012, approximately fifty percent of the Afghan population lives in areas that were transitioning to Afghan-led security.

Ghani refused to stick to the terms of a power-sharing agreement he signed with his electoral rival, Abdullah, in 2014 that led to the creation of an unwieldly national unity government that was characterized by bitter divisions and bickering.

Ghani won the 2019 presidential election that was plagued by record-low turnout and allegations of fraud. Foreign powers and domestic power brokers had pleaded for him to postpone the vote in favor of peace talks with the Taliban. But he refused.

Once intra-Afghan peace talks began in September 2020, Ghani was accused by critics of repeatedly stalling and undermining the peace process to retain power. On August 2, 2021 President Ghani blames the “abrupt” withdrawal of the US-led forces for his country's deteriorating security situation

Ghani fled the country 15 Auguest 2021, saying he did so to prevent the Taliban “massacring” civilians. The Russian embassy in Kabul claimed that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country with four cars and a helicopter full of cash. Ghani had to leave some money behind as all of it it was not fitting in, and some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.

Ghani’s escape from Kabul, as the city came under Taliban rule without resistance, marked the end of his tumultuous, polarizing seven years in power. Analysts said the 72-year-old’s abrasive and authoritarian leadership style, which alienated key power brokers, contributed to the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s security forces and the unraveling of the government.

“His divisive and unpopular leadership affected the management and planning of the war,” said Ali Adili, a researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. Ghani fired and replaced the country’s security leadership on several occasions. He had also sidelined crucial power brokers, including influential former warlords who held sway in the provinces, particularly in northern Afghanistan. “The failure of resistance in the northern provinces against the Taliban in recent weeks was partly a result of Ghani alienating key figureheads and weakening local structures of power,” said Hameed Hakimi, a research associate at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

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Page last modified: 08-09-2021 13:04:26 ZULU