Afghanistan under Ashraf Ghani: A visionary leader who did little to turn promises into reality

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani dreamed of transforming his country from a tribal, patronage-based society to a modern technocratic state. It ...

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani dreamed of transforming his country from a tribal, patronage-based society to a modern technocratic state. It was to achieve this that he gave up his US passport to run for the presidency in 2009. However, his term abruptly ended on 15 August, more than three years before his second term was due to expire, when he fled the country as Taliban insurgents took over Kabul. Here's a look at a difficult rise and a humiliating end to Ghani's presidency.

Life before he was President Ghani

Before becoming the president in 2014, Ghani enjoyed a stellar career abroad as an academic and economist focused on failed states, only returning 24 years later to pursue his dream of rebuilding the country.

He studied at New York's Columbia University, before teaching in the United States during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

He worked with the World Bank from 1991, becoming an expert on the Russian coal industry, and finally moved back to Kabul as a senior UN special adviser soon after the Taliban were routed in late 2001.

In the days that followed, he was a key architect of the interim government and became a powerful finance minister under President Hamid Karzai from 2002 to 2004, campaigning hard against burgeoning corruption.

An unpopular figure

Elected in 2014, the 72-year-old Ghani's presidential tenure was wrought by internal feuding, particularly with Abdullah Abdullah, his top rival in the elections of 2014 and 2019. The first was so tainted by charges of fraud that the United Nations had to organise a hasty recount. When that proved inconclusive, John F Kerry, then the US Secretary of State, had to broker a power-sharing deal between the two; an arrangement that proved tense and divisive. Added to this Afghanistan and the Western powers stood divided in their opinion about Ghani. On the one hand, he was renowned for his intensity and energy. He introduced a new currency, set up a tax system, encouraged wealthy expat Afghans to return home, and cajoled donors as the country emerged from the austere Taliban era.

On the other, he was seen as indecisive. Consequently, in his last years in office, Ghani watched himself be excluded from talks between Washington and the Taliban and was later forced by his American allies to release 5,000 hardened insurgents to lock down a peace deal that never materialised. Meanwhile, the Taliban dismissed him as a "puppet". Ghani was left with little leverage during his final months in the presidential palace and resorted to delivering screeching televised diatribes that did little to improve his reputation with Afghans.

Afghanistan under Ghani

During his presidency, Ghani managed to appoint a new generation of young, educated Afghans to leadership positions at a time the country's power corridors were occupied by a handful of elite figures and patronage networks. He promised to fight rampant corruption, fix a crippled economy and transform the country into a regional trade hub between Central and South Asia, but was unable to deliver on most of those promises.

The bitter farewell

Ghani may ultimately be remembered as someone who made little headway against the deep-rooted government corruption, who failed to make headway with the Talibans and abandoned the country when it needed him probably most. Even in the weeks as Taliban fighters were overrunning districts across the country, he appeared to be either in shock or denial. He made no public statements about the conflict and gave no news conferences.

On Saturday, the government broadcast a brief video in which Ghani praised the Afghan security forces and declared they had the fortitude to win. He made no mention of resigning. Afghan chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah has said, "The fact that the former Afghan president left the country and put the people and country in such a bad situation, God will hold him accountable and the people of Afghanistan will also judge him."

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India World News: Afghanistan under Ashraf Ghani: A visionary leader who did little to turn promises into reality
Afghanistan under Ashraf Ghani: A visionary leader who did little to turn promises into reality
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