During the Ashraf Ghani era as President of Afghanistan, which lasted from 2014 to 2021, there were several developments and changes in the field of governance in Afghanistan.
Ghani is an academic personality and his education career is at a prominent university abroad. Ghani worked with several international development organizations, such as the World Bank. In 2001, after the fall of the Taliban regime, Ghani returned to Afghanistan to play a role in the country’s reconstruction. He worked as an advisor to President Hamid Karzai and was involved in various government initiatives. In the 2014 presidential election, Ashraf Ghani ran for office and ultimately won after a runoff vote. He assumed the presidency in September 2014. During his presidency, Ghani faced numerous challenges, including security issues, political instability, and economic difficulties. In August 2021, as the Taliban gained momentum, Ghani faced increasing pressure and criticism. On August 15, 2021, he fled the country as the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Ashraf Ghani presidency and his departure from Afghanistan marked a significant chapter in the country’s recent history, with complex and varying opinions about his leadership and the circumstances of his exit.
Here are some key points related to governance during his time in office:
Ashraf Ghani assumed office in September 2014 after a controversial presidential election. The election results were disputed, leading to a power-sharing arrangement where Ghani became President and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the country. This created a unique dual leadership structure. The National Unity Government (NUG) was formed as a result of the power-sharing agreement. This government structure was aimed at bringing together different factions and ethnic groups in Afghanistan to promote stability and inclusivity. I interviewed Shah Mahmood Miakhil about it. He was Former Governor of the Nangarhar province and former deputy minister of defense Afghanistan, (GIRoA).
The political challenges were that the government was half-hearted in the first term and had to make compromises. In the security sector, there was a military transfer in 2014, when more than 100,000 American troops left and the responsibility for the war was transferred to the security and defense forces of Afghanistan.
Filling the void of this large army was not an easy task, and in this regard, the Taliban increased their attacks with the support of some countries. Then, as long as the logistics and air support were from the United States, the Taliban could not capture much of the territory from the Afghan forces, and the situation of the Taliban continued to deteriorate in 2019 and 2020, but the bilateral agreement and the release of more than 5,000 prisoners gave the Taliban Sigh again.
Before Ashraf Ghani, there were also economic challenges because with the withdrawal of the US/NATO forces, the amount of aid was less, and more capital from Afghanistan’s economy fled in 2014 and 2015, but still, the government was made to manage the budget and develop development works.
The important issue was that Dr. Ashraf Ghani was not able to build a loyal and at the same time committed team to implement this policy. On the other hand, all the politicians inside and outside the government were trying to make him fail and collude with the Taliban.
Also, I must mention, that it was a weakness, that he did not take a strong stand on the failure of the peace talks (Afghan government and Taliban) that had gathered and invited the Loya Gerga (Grand Assembly) and told them all the facts and told them to hand over the power to someone. People themselves supported it. In addition, he should have focused on governance and the rule of law, but most of the time he was dealing with sectional goals. The difficulty was still not having a strong team that had good advice and maintained good relations with the public.
Also, Ashraf Ghani failed to convince and make great relations with the international community, the US, and Alliances. He could not establish good relations with the United States, and for this, he did not have a strong team to help him.
Afghanistan has a history of being a politically fragmented and ethnically diverse country, and this has led to the rise of different power brokers and factions, including warlords, who have exercised control over different parts of the country. These warlords often have their armed militias and have played important roles in the country’s politics, particularly during and after the Soviet-Afghan War, the civil war of the 1990s, and the subsequent conflicts.
It’s important to note that Afghanistan’s political landscape has evolved, and the influence and control of warlords have fluctuated based on various factors, including international interventions, conflicts, and negotiations. The situation is complex, and the roles of different warlords have shifted in response to changing dynamics within the country.
Economic Reforms and Infrastructure Development:
The Ghani government emphasized economic reforms, aiming to reduce corruption and improve transparency. Efforts were made to streamline government processes, attract foreign investment, and create a more business-friendly environment. The government aimed to improve infrastructure, including road networks and public services, to enhance connectivity and the quality of life for Afghan citizens. He implemented a series of economic reforms and policies aimed at promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and improving governance. Ghani administration worked to strengthen fiscal discipline by improving revenue collection and expenditure management. This included efforts to combat corruption and increase transparency in government finances.
Ghani sought to attract foreign and domestic investment to Afghanistan by streamlining business regulations and making it easier for businesses to operate in the country. The government launched initiatives to encourage investment in various sectors, including mining and agriculture. Infrastructure development was a major focus of Ghani’s economic agenda. The government invested in the construction of roads, bridges, and energy projects to improve connectivity and access to basic services, especially in rural areas. Ghani government implemented policies to support farmers, increase agricultural productivity, and promote value-added processing and exports of agricultural products.
The Ghani administration worked to enhance trade ties with neighboring countries and regional partners. This included initiatives to facilitate cross-border trade and transit agreements to improve economic connectivity. Also, Ghani focused on education and skills development. Recognizing the importance of a skilled workforce for economic growth, the Ghani government invested in education and vocational training programs to enhance the capabilities of the Afghan workforce.
The Ghani administration launched various anti-corruption campaigns and initiatives. However, progress in tackling corruption was slow, and Afghanistan continued to rank poorly on global corruption perception indexes. I interviewed Scott Richards, about it. He worked as a Special Advisor to the Minister of Finance and Special Advisor in the Justice Sector of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA).
Corruption in Afghanistan was complex and the totality of the environment enabled corruption. Enablement in this context means that it was incentivized. The sheer amount of money that was provided for security and nation-building, as well as the structure of contracting vehicles largely dominated by major corporations from Europe and the US, benefited from anti-competitive behavior. There were no consequences for failure and the turnover in government, meant that it was rational for officials to embezzle because their future, and that of the country was uncertain.
There was no genuine will at any point to improve justice at strategic points for economic enablement. There was no interest in developing serious anti-corruption initiatives or enhancing the culture of ministries, the effort to vest people in their roles. There were no adequate effects towards providing mechanisms to report corruption and also to take action on corruption.
To lay the blame at the Ghani Administration entirely would be mistaken, as when we refer to the requests above, and the effort gone to in anti-corruption from within GIRoA. There was not one single instance where ISAF/RS or the Western Governments assisted with official requests that were made while I was with the Ministry of Finance or the Justice Sector. It was the exact opposite, total obstruction and disinterest unless there was a potential contract for one of the major contracting companies.
Essentially, anti-corruption was adversarial to everyone making money out of Afghanistan, as was mission success because then the money tap turned off. They needed it to refund the country for donor nation confidence because corruption was a huge concern, so they needed a plan to show but not do. There was no reason given for not implementing any practices, it was a “box tick”.
Security, Counterterrorism, and Peace Effort:
The Ghani government faced significant security challenges, including ongoing conflicts with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Despite efforts to improve the Afghan security forces, the situation remained volatile with frequent attacks and clashes. The Ghani government inherited a complex security situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency remained a significant threat, with the group regaining strength and conducting attacks in various parts of the country.
Additionally, other militant groups like ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) also emerged, further destabilizing the security environment. The Ghani government, with the support of international partners, continued efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan. These efforts included conducting joint military operations with Afghan security forces and U.S. and NATO troops against the Taliban and ISIS-K. However, eliminating the terrorist threat proved to be a difficult task, as both groups continued to carry out attacks. The Ghani government expressed its commitment to achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. It engaged in various peace initiatives, including negotiations with the Taliban.
One notable development was the U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February 2020, which aimed to pave the way for intra-Afghan talks and the withdrawal of foreign troops. The Ghani administration pursued peace talks with the Taliban, facilitated by international actors. However, progress was sporadic, and direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban were difficult to establish.
Civil Society and Women’s Rights:
The Ghani government made some efforts to promote women’s rights and civil society engagement, challenges remained. Women’s rights activists and civil society members continued to face threats and violence from various groups. Afghanistan saw the emergence and growth of civil society organizations, including those advocating for women’s rights, human rights, education, and various social issues. Many Afghan civil society groups worked on promoting democracy, transparency, and good governance. Under the Ghani government, there were efforts to promote and protect women’s rights, including the development of policies and initiatives aimed at improving women’s access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. There were female members of parliament and government ministers, indicating progress in women’s political participation.
It’s important to note that the situation in Afghanistan evolved rapidly, and the challenges faced by the Ghani administration were complex and multifaceted. The governance landscape during his tenure was marked by efforts to address various issues while contending with ongoing security concerns and political uncertainties.