By Noorrahman Rahmani*
One hundred days after Mohammad Ashraf Ghani came to power, Afghans feel betrayed and dissatisfied with his performance so far. They say the compromises their new president has made could be devastating for Afghanistan and the future of its fledgling democracy.
Most of the several dozen Kabul residents interviewed across the capital say that in his first 100 days in office, the new president has done the opposite of what he promised before he was elected.
As part of his election bid, Ghani set out an ambitious programme of actions he would take during his first 100 days. But as that expired, a web-based initiative called Sad Roz, which means “100 Days”, set up to monitor the Ghani administration’s performance, said that of the 110 election promises, only four had been fulfilled, 23 were in progress, and work on the remaining 83 had not even started.
“During campaigning, he said he would not create a ‘corporation’ where ministerial jobs and other senior posts were distributed to various political factions as was the case during his predecessor’s time; instead, ministers would be chosen based on merit and qualifications,” said Shapur Ahmad, 27, a Kabul university student. “But the recent announcement of the cabinet members, which took him more than 100 days, showed that he’s worse than his predecessor in terms of bringing unqualified people and those associated with war criminals to power.
“He’s basically proved he is a liar, and no one is going to believe him in future.”
Another resident of the capital, Samandar Khan, 40, said that “[Hamed] Karzai, too, made compromises, but at least he was the only person leading the country. Unfortunately, our current government is led by two leaders – himself [Ashraf Ghani] and the chief executive officer. The first thing he did during his swearing-in ceremony was to breach the constitution by signing a decree appointing his rival Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive officer, hence halving his own duties and responsibilities, counter to current Afghan laws.”
In Khan’s view, Ghani is a good economist but not a politician, and in a country like Afghanistan, the job of being president requires someone with a knowledge of politics.
“He hasn’t been able to do anything during these 100 days,” he said. “Corruption within the government has significantly increased, as all the ministries have been led by acting ministers during this period, the security situation has further deteriorated, he was unable to announce a cabinet during this time, and he dismissed a lot of experienced and qualified civil servants.”
Another interviewee Safia, 30, a mother of two, agreed that there had been no positive changes to people’s lives.
“I am truly disappointed at the choice I have made. I voted for Ghani thinking he would change Afghanistan, since before his candidacy, he was once declared the world’s second best thinker by an international organisation,” she said. “It took him and his rival Abdullah… months to agree on the results of the June 2014 vote. They ultimately agreed after intervention by the international community, particularly the United States and its Secretary of State, which led to the creation of the current unity government with two heads. It will take them months to agree a single strategy or decision. The government’s inability to announce the cabinet during the 100 days is a good example of the problem of government leadership.”
According to Safia, “The delayed announcement of the poll results badly affected people’s economic circumstances. A lot of people lost their jobs, and more continue to do so.”
In the presidential election held on April 5 last year, none of the candidates gained the required 50 per cent of the vote, so it went to a second round in June between Ghani, who polled 32 per cent, and Abdullah with 45 per cent. Ghani emerged from the run-off as winner with 56 per cent of the vote, with Abdullah behind at 44 per cent. Claims of fraud were made on both sides, necessitating a total nationwide recount that delayed the declaration of a new president. Ghani was finally inaugurated on September 29.
Not all those interviewed agreed that Ghani’s deal awarding Abdullah the new post of chief executive officer was a fatal error. Some say he was forced to be flexible because he was not in a position to dispense overnight with powerful parties that have grown stronger over the past 13 years.
Abdul Qahar Jawad, a journalism lecturer at the Kabul University, believes the president was under pressure on all sides, from the international community as well as Afghan political parties.
“It is very difficult for a technocrat like Mr Ghani, who has been educated in the West and has recently returned to the country, to get rid of the political parties who still have their own small armies controlling large swathes of the country,” Jawad said. “But during his five-year term, he will need to work towards ending the culture of monopolising power among these groups. If he doesn’t, no one will trust him with a second term.”
Ghani’s spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai dismissed suggestions that his first three months had not been a success.
“Three months isn’t enough time. However, the president took some fundamental steps during his 100 days in office,” the spokesman said. “He signed two security pacts – the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States and the Status of Forces Agreement with NATO, and he resolved the Kabul Bank case – the single biggest corruption scandal since 2001 when the Taleban regime was toppled. He represented Afghanistan at the London Conference as well as making trips to various countries including several NATO member states, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – states that can play a pivotal role in bringing peace to Afghanistan.”
The official said the reason why Ghani had been unable to form a cabinet during his first 100 days was that he needed to ensure he selected qualified individuals. “The government has been able to present a young cabinet whose performance will be evaluated by the president and parliament every six months. If they don’t perform well, decisions will be made.”
These arguments did not, however, convince critics of the president interviewed for this report.
“The Kabul Bank case was symbolic because he needed to go to the London Conference with some achievements, win more support and demonstrate that he is serious about the fight against corruption,” said Shogofa Shafiq, 24, a university student. “It is true that I voted for him and also encouraged others to vote for him. But I feel guilt for any bad things he does since I am partly responsible for him being elected president of Afghanistan.”
*Noorrahman Rahman is IWPR Country Director in Afghanistan.