Dr. Ashraf Ghani has announced that he will run against Afghanistan’s current President, Hamid Karzai, in the August 2009 election.
Mr. Ghani believes he can provide vision, management and security for the troubled country that is fighting against both Taliban and Al Qaeda incursions. He believes he is the leader that can bring about “a military turnaround” as well as an “economic revival.”
[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 turn 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.
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 says he has many ideas, many volunteers willing to help, but little money to fund his run for office. Nevertheless, he talks about hydropower, copper mining, agricultural exports and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, including a railroad to Tajikistan and an electricity plan. He talks about the early arrival of two telecommunications companies who had to think long and hard about the $5 million license fee. Today, he says, those licenses are worth $600 million. Three additional firms have joined, bringing in $1 billion in private investments.
Ghani has an impressive resume. He served as the country’s finance minister from 2002 – 2004, he joined the World Bank 1991 and appeared with regularity on PBS’s News Hour, CNN and the BBC. After his service in Karzai’s government, Ghani served as chancellor of Kabul University. After leaving that position he co-founded the Institute for State Effectiveness and serves as the Chairman today.
Mr. Ghani won praise for reforms and large-scale 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 departure, he served as chancellor of Kabul University.
Dr. Ghani has said if he wins the presidency, he will talk to the Taliban, but there are doubts that he can be successful in that endeavor. He praised President Barack Obama for his “unified approach,” but criticized the airstrikes, which he says are counterproductive.
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.
Clearly proud of his countrymen, he lamented the years of war, but said “the average Afghan listens to four radio stations a day. We are neither ignorant nor stupid,” he said.
Ashraf Ghani was born in 1949. He is a Pashtun and a Muslim. Ghani studied political science and international affairs at the American University of Beirut, and earned his Master’s and PhD in Anthropology from Columbia. He participated in leadership training at both Harvard and Stanford. He is a Fulbright Scholar
Here are a few comments from admirers:
He has tremendous leadership and decision making skills that sets him apart from other potential candidates,” says Harris Najib a graduate student and Fulbright Fellow at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. “He is well aware of the current socio-economic and political turmoil in Afghanistan. He is widely respected in the academia and the political circles in the US and Europe and has some unique yet practical ideas for a better Afghanistan.
Ashraf Ghani’s supporters do not support him because he is from a certain ethnicity but because of his abilities,” says Mr. Hamdullah. “Anyone who knows Ashraf Ghani, inside or outside Afghanistan, knows he bases his decisions on merits rather than who you know and that scares many because quite frankly many of them cannot compete in a merit based system.
Karzai opponents are Dr. Ghani, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Anwar ul–Haq Ahady, Mirwais Yasini, and Ali Ahmad Jalali,