Afghan president reaches end of difficult first year
Ashraf Ghani's first year in office has seen him struggle to guide war-torn country through troubles
By Shadi Khan Saif
A year ago, Ashraf Ghani became Afghan president following a long, disputed and tense electoral process to lead the war-torn country through arguably its most delicate period in modern times.
Many Afghans believe Ghani, an anthropologist and former World Bank economist, was the ideal man to lead the country to a peaceful and successful transition as most of foreign combat troops pulled out.
His critics, however, criticized him as a man of ideas rather than action.
After winning the 2014 election, Ghani accommodated his rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah as a power-sharing “chief executive” in the national unity government.
Ghani pronounced the move a key element in unifying an ethnically diverse country with a volatile history of feuds that is seeking to make its way out of decades of violent civil war. To his enemies though, Ghani’s olive branch was a sign of weakness - compromise where strong leadership should rule - and denounced the Do Saray Hukomat, or government of two heads.
Lying between central and southern Asia, Afghanistan has seen centuries of foreign military intervention. The current one, dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom by the U.S. and its NATO allies, is about to enter its 14th year and although the NATO force declared its combat mission over last December, at least 13,000 foreign troops remain on Afghan soil.
Ghani was sworn in on Sept. 29 last year, following a ballot marred by allegations of vote-rigging. Overshadowing the process was the scheduled withdrawal of international troops who would leave behind the Afghan army and police to face the Taliban.
The Taliban in turn had marked the year as one when they would try to retake the capital Kabul by stepping up their war.
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 2014 was the deadliest year in Afghanistan, with civilian casualties mounting to more than 10,000 - 3,699 killed and 6,849 injured. Since 2009, there have been 47,745 civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Criticizing Ghani for his inability to bring peace, Gen. Atiqullah Amarkhail, former chief of the Afghan Air Force, described him as “too wishful” in his approach to Pakistan, widely viewed as the Taliban’s backer in Afghanistan.
“There is no doubt that Pakistan has a great deal of influence over the Taliban and has an important role to bring this conflict to an end,” Amarkhail told Anadolu Agency.
“But he [Ghani] must have realized Pakistan has never been neutral towards Afghanistan, it has its own aims and objectives, so expecting them to play fair for peace was a mistake by the president.”
In clear contrast to his predecessor Hamid Karzai, Ghani extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan’s civil and military leadership. In turn, he was welcomed to the Pakistan Army’s general HQ on his maiden trip to Pakistan and, until recently, had been in close contact with the Pakistani leadership.
However, a string of terrorist attacks in Kabul last month angered Ghani, who publically accused Pakistan of allowing terrorists to launch attacks from Pakistan territory.
Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, a strategic affairs analyst, says Ghani’s foreign policy can be judged a success on one level.
“The fact that the Afghan government has made regional countries and world powers like the U.S. and China realize that peace in this part of the world is not possible until there is peace in Afghanistan is a major achievement,” he said.
It is in the field of economics - where he has a lifetime’s experience - that Ghani has done better.
The president has intensified efforts to lead the aid-addicted economy to self-reliance and is seeking to revive Afghanistan’s classic economy when the country served as a regional hub for trade and ideas connecting east and west via the ancient Silk Road.
At home, extra taxes have been imposed on businesses that had enjoyed a tax-free ride for years. Ghani also takes pride in saving millions of dollars in the government’s procurement program through the formation of the National Procurement Council to keep an eye on government spending.
However, Khan Jan Alakozay, vice president of the Afghanistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, is not impressed.
“Our latest survey indicates gross domestic product growth would further sink to less than 2 percent this year, capital continues to fly from the country and above all, investors still do not feel safe here,” Alakozay said.
On a positive note, Alakozay said it was good to see the international confidence in the current government.
Earlier this month, a large number of donor countries and aid organizations gave their support to the government at a regional economic conference in Kabul.
According to Alakozay, both Ghani and Abdullah have failed to realize the promises they made during their election campaigns.
Despite numerous statements by both men that they are united, doubts remain about their approach towards the governance. From the ordinary man on the street to political commentators and members of parliament, all claim the government is fractured.
Former air force chief Amarkhail is among them. He told Anadolu Agency the two leaders’ differences extend to who to appoint to the Cabinet as well as major issues concerning national security.
“They took over seven months to form a Cabinet that still does not have a defense minister,” he noted.
However, Lewal claims the fact that Ghani and Abdullah have managed to keep the machinery of governance working at such crucial moment - when it was widely believed the system would collapse with the withdrawal of foreign troops - was in itself a major achievement.
Referring to Afghanistan’s once all-powerful warlords, Lewal said: “In Ghani’s first year in office, the former centers of power have been sidelined to a great extent. This is a very positive thing.”
Irrespective of how he is judged by his contemporaries, as he embarks on his second year in office, Ghani will be hoping for an easier path over the next 12 months.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.