Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is slowly managing to undercut the national influence of feudalist powers but it's not an easy going for him as these people continue to organise different fronts against him.
Ghani is managing to hold firm as former warlords and government officials form alliances, termed as "a coalition of killers" by Washington Post, to oppose his reform efforts. Often criticised for micromanaging, Ghani is doing that because it’s what Afghanistan needs the most to eradicate corruption until the change in the bureaucratic structure and security apparatus has been realised.
The Afghan president has recently drawn the ire of a majority of the traditionalist and ethnocentric leaders, who have been grave human rights violators. Even though an absolute majority of the civil bureaucrats, especially at the foreign affairs ministry, and military and police are members of Jamiat-e-Islami, an ethnic Tajik party, its leaders see that their undisputable grip over the Afghan state is slipping away. Jamiat leaders took to the streets following the firing of Zia Massoud, a Tajik leader, by Ghani as his top adviser. Massoud and other former Mujahideen pocketed billions of dollars under former president Hamid Karzai’s watch during the American aid bonanza from 2002 to 2013. Karzai gained their patronage by allowing widespread corruption, especially in the police and military. Jamiat members lacking even a high school degree and zero training became generals overnight.
Jamiat has grown strong roots in Afghan politics over the last decade. The fact that their candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, disputed the results of general elections and forced Ghani to broker a power-sharing deal with him shows how strong the Jamiat had become. Jamiat leaders and other warlords were considered untouchable and not subject to retribution and accountability. But it seems to be changing.
Ghani has been less conservative than Karzai in exercising his power as president. That began to surface following Dostum-Ishchi incident. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan’s first vice-president abducted and sexually abused Jawzjan’s former governor, Ahmad Ishchi in November, 2016. Dostum was sidelined from decision-making since the incident and was put under house arrest, and then later was conditionally allowed to go to Turkey. It was unprecedented in the nascent tenure of the current state. Warlords’ impunity was accepted as the law of gravity in Afghanistan. Nobody expected Ghani to go through with Dostum’s case and sacking of Zia Massoud. But when he did, he received consistent resistance from pro-Jamiat masses.
The sidelined warlords and dissenting officials met recently in Turkey and formed an alliance (Coalition for the Rescue of Afghanistan) with Dostum against Ghani. Besides Dostum, the alliance includes Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Hazara leader, and Atta Nur, an ethnic Tajik leader from Jamiat, but they did not present a practical rhetoric for reform aside from allegations and generic criticism of Ghani. That wave of dissidence against Ghani has been joined by some parliament (Wolesi Jirga) members as well. Ghani has undermined parliament members’ influence by taking advantage of the loophole, the illegitimacy of the parliament. The Coalition for Rescue of Afghanistan denigrated Ghani while they planned to jostle Dostum back to Afghanistan without the president’s knowledge. Last week, Dostum tried to land in Mazar-e-Sharif without permission from the central government, but his plane was diverted to Tajikistan when asked to either land in Kabul or leave Afghanistan’s air space. The powerful Balkh governor, Noor could not intervene to let the plane land in Balkh. Dostum’s diversion sounds like Ghani sent a message to warlords: The days of mutiny are gone.
Ghani’s administration is a cliffhanger. On one hand, he has recently appointed a young, educated minister, Shahzad Aryobee for the Ministry of Communications and IT, on the other hand, he appointed a corrupt former governor, Gul Agha Sherzai as minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs. He has appointed servile heads for security institutions rather than professional leaders. The war with the Taliban has intensified during his administration. On 6 August, Taliban attacked northern province of Sar-e-Pul and killed 50 people. An explosion on 24 July that took 36 lives was a sequel of a series of bombing in Kabul this year. More territories are controlled by the Taliban today than ever before in the past 14 years. Ghani promised to create one million jobs during his election campaigns, yet there are thousands of vacancies at various levels within the government, and no strategy is in place to fill them, let alone create new jobs. In addition, he has not been able to stage the elections for Wolesi Jirga. Constitutional obligations prescribed the end of the current Wolesi Jirga members in June 2015. Technically, the most important democratic institution of the Afghan state is illegitimate, which in turn makes the legitimacy of the cabinet questionable. Despite that, Ghani is the best choice Afghanistan has.
In the political race between Ghani and his opponents, the mainstream media that act as the mouthpiece of warlords, are propagating against Ghani, but he has received far-flung support from social media users based on the sole reason that he has deterred warlords and corrupt officials. Being a veteran World Bank official, Ghani has the potential to lay the ground work for a steady economic growth in Afghanistan. For example, it is the first time in history that Afghanistan has had over $1bn revenue in the first half of the fiscal year--it is expected to double by the end of 2017. His collaboration with India on implementing developmental projects on rivers and building water dams, such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan and Salma is beginning to pay off and has even worried Iran. The vision of these dams was laid during King Zahir Khan’s rule some six decades ago. Ghani is now in pursuit of converting those visions into implementable projects. Managing rivers of Afghanistan as such will irrigate thousands of hectares of lands which will result in a double-digit fold growth in cultivation besides generating hydroelectricity.
On the foreign policy end, he is building an energy-oriented relation with the energy-rich Central Asian nations. Ghani has been successful in rejuvenating the credibility of Afghanistan among the West, especially the US, which was badly tarnished by Karzai. During the initial months in office, he cleared the fog over the Afghan conflict and rigorously enunciated that Pakistan is in “a state of undeclared war” with Afghanistan, while no substantial action has been taken. In addition, his attractive clique of prominent technocrats, which includes people like Hanif Atmar, Mohammad Qayoumi and the passionate youth (diverse in gender and ethnicity) of Arg, have made Ghani an appealing leader in the international community.
While he has a clear, corrupt free background and a game plan for his foreign and fiscal policies, his opponents are notorious human rights violators and corrupt officials with no strategy for reform. All their fuss is due to the drainage of their resources via corruption from public funds. Ghani is a visionary leader. Slowly and carefully, he is institutionalising and modernising the Afghan state – a state that has functioned based on traditions instead of modern-day statehood.
The author is a post-graduate student at Journalism and Public Relations Media School, Indiana University Bloomington.
Updated Date: Aug 08, 2017 18:04 PM