Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

2014 Elections (20): The Ashraf Ghani interview

Kate Clark 12 min

In the second of AAN’s interviews with the two remaining Afghan presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani has challenged his rival, Dr Abdullah, to televised debates – after Abdullah told AAN he did not want any debates this time. Ghani also dared Abdullah’s running mate, the Hazara politician, Muhammad Muhaqeq, to discuss publically with him who has actually done more for the people of central Afghanistan. In an interview full of detail about his plans and philosophy, Ghani also told AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, he would not be negotiating with Abdullah to form the next government. He was not authorised to make deals “behind the back” of the electorate, he said, and the second round, set for 14 June 2014, must take place to give the next Afghan president a full democratic mandate.

Ashraf Ghani with his vice-presidential candidates, Dostum (to his left) and Danesh (to his right) and other key supporters, including Atmar and Hamed Gailani. Photo c/o Pajhwok Afghan News

“I’m not interested in a deal – period,” Ashraf Ghani told AAN when asked if he might negotiate a new government with Dr Abdullah (see Abdullah’s interview with AAN here). Some  have called for negotiations rather than a second round, pointing to the risk of Taleban violence and the possibility of an ugly ethnic struggle. (1)

I want a mandate. The two million who voted for me voted for my agenda, they did not vote for my person. They’ve not authorised me to make deals behind their backs. A compromise is going to produce a stalemate in government. Afghanistan does not need a stalemate. Take the economy. By the time we take over, the rate of growth might be zero or even negative. How am I going to manage that with compromise? One thing is crystal clear. This country wants reform. And because of that, I’ve rejected compromise…

The final first round results, announced on 15 May, showed Abdullah 14 per cent ahead of Ghani, the gap between them unchanged since the preliminary results (which did not take into account fraudulent votes). Ghani said the 14 per cent gap did not reflect the “substantive political reality” in the country: “If we were worried about a real gap between us and Dr Abdullah,” said Ashraf Ghani, “we would not be seeking a second round.” Abdullah has contended that, without fraud, he would have 50 per cent of the votes and been the outright winner. Ghani said he is also not convinced by the figures:

All the evidence before the election and the exit polls (2)… did not indicate a gap. And the overwhelming consensus of the country has been that there was significant fraud. Because of that, we do not believe that we are facing a gap… The second round is necessary precisely to determine, in an environment free of fraud, who will get a mandate. That is the principle.

Increasing the vote?

Ghani spoke about the specifics of increasing his share of the vote. He said he had been reaching out to both Hazaras and Uzbeks after his ticket performed less well than had been expected in these communities. How Uzbeks voted in the first round will be the subject of a forthcoming AAN dispatch. As to the Hazara vote – for details, see here and here, Ghani said that, in central Afghanistan, he had been subject to “one of most vicious campaigns in history”; he was smeared as a westernised non-Muslim with a Jewish wife (she is actually a Lebanese Christian who got Afghan citizenship in the 1970s):

My wife is not Jewish, not that there’s anything against this. Monotheist wives are accepted in Islam… Do these people not accept the tradition of the Prophet, the letter of the Quran?

He said his team was now reaching out very widely to the Hazara and Shia ulema and all other groups from the community. The night before the interview, for example, he said he had spoken to 700 heads of neighbourhoods from Behsud, a district which has seen some of the worst Kuchi-Hazara violence over many years. Ghani’s Kuchi background was widely used against him in the campaign in Hazarajat, but he said his was the only team with a “very systematic agenda for tackling the question of what he called the Kuchi-settled relationship”:

For how long does [Dr Abdullah’s team] want the people to live in fear? What is their agenda for central Afghanistan? What exactly has Mr Muhaqeq done in his years of being in government or in parliament? I was the engine for creating Daikundi as a province… I pushed for the inclusion for Jafari [Shia] law in the constitution because it was a legitimate demand of the community. What exactly has he offered? Does he have any vision of what central Afghanistan is going to be, except repeating what is in our manifesto? I would invite Mr Muhaqeq, even though he’s a vice-presidential candidate, to discuss central Afghanistan with me on an open podium. Anywhere in Afghanistan. So that we can understand who really cares about the people… He’s not an oppositional figure. He’s part and parcel of this elite. But what does he deliver?

Ghani warned that negative campaigning, such as was seen in Hazarajat, has its risks:

We’re not going to remain silent. And if negative campaigning is pushed, I will not engage in it, but some hard questions are going to be put to the team that brought us the tragedies of 1992-1996 in Kabul. If they want to own the past, then they own the responsibility of that past.

Dealing with war crimes, ending the war

AAN asked about Ghani’s own running mate, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was also a key player in the mid-1990s civil war and its associated atrocities (see details here). “My partner,” said Ghani, “has publically declared his commitment to reconciliation”. As to the question of whether he would publish the Conflict Mapping Report, the major piece of research by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission into the war crimes and crimes against humanity in all provinces of the country during the years 1978-2001 which President Karzai has suppressed he said:

I don’t have any problem with publishing. What I want is a genuine Afghan reconciliation process. We’re tired of blood. We need to reach closure.

Q: And you mean reconciliation both for pre-2001 and after?

Yes. The social fabric needs nurturing. It’s not going to be done with cheap slogans. I reached out to General Dostum and he to me, as a sign that we want genuine reconciliation. That we accept each other. The politics of exclusion has not worked. We have tried this and it failed. 1978 [the year of the Saur Revolution], there were not more than a 1000 leftists in this country. Within three months, there was not a male member of my family who was not in prison. Then 1992 [when Kabul fell to the mujahedin], what hopes did we not have? And within weeks, people were resorting to tanks and guns. It was as though children had suddenly acquired toys…

We are wounded… We need to weave back this body politic, to make it whole. Everyone understands that we are necessary for each other and that is what is going to bring genuine peace. If you exclude everybody who’s been in conflict, who remains? The next generation will move on. But political power is in the hands of people who have engaged in conflict and war. I will play the role of critical mediator whose hands are free of both blood and corruption.

As in AAN’s interview with Dr Abdullah, we asked Ashraf Ghani how he intended to end the war (his full answer is below in footnote 3).

Take peace seriously. The first thing is build a consensus on the cost of war. The cost of the war is being borne by the poor. Badakhshan, Takhar, Parwan and Nangrahar are paying the highest casualties of this war. So it is not a north and south issue… It is predominantly poor men who are finding outlet either in joining the national army or the national police or migrating illegally to neighbouring countries and abroad. We need to appreciate the cost of blood. We need to understand that there’s a cost of war. For our political-economic elite, the war was cost free because the massive international presence made it cost free. Now, with the BSA [the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States], it becomes our conflict. We’re the lead and [we have the] responsibility.

Ghani, like Abdullah, has said he will sign the BSA and both told AAN they see no problem reaching out to an American public and political class which is largely bored by or hostile towards Afghanistan, at the same time not alienating Afghans upset by the US presence. Like Abdullah, Ghani also told AAN Afghanistan can handle the 10,000 US troops predicted to stay behind if the BSA is signed:

Americans are not going to be fighting in Afghan villages. That’s the first key gain of BSA. There are not going to have any massive number to have a footprint. The overwhelming majority of the Americans after BSA are going to be in Afghan bases, engaging in training and equipping and assisting our troops.

The BSA and transition, Ghani contends, will change the dynamic of the war:

We won’t have a massive foreign presence doing our fighting. [The] sons, brothers and cousins [of our volunteer army] are the university students, the high school students. There is going to be tremendous pressure, moral pressure by these stake-holders because a government that is elected on the basis of an agenda of transformation, will be subject to accountability. The elite is not paying a price because it is not their peace or war. Aren’t a significant proportion of the political-economic elite behaving like observers? They think that it’s someone else’s country, as if each time someone else is doing this or that for us or to us.

Attacking Abdullah

Ghani made a blistering attack on the capabilities of the man with whom he will fight the second round of the elections, in a sign possibly of how the next few weeks may pan out. He compared how he believed he and Abdullah would run the country:

First, I have a proven record of reform. Dr Abdullah has no record of reform. Look at my tenure as Minister of Finance. In comparative terms, in developing countries, it’s rare to get a minister of finance who succeeds in so many reforms, comprehensively, in such a short period…. I created systems. My record of moving from idea to implementation is clear. The National Solidary Programme was announced on February 2nd 2002. By June, it was under implementation. The national army: we would still have a rag-tag militia had I not taken a stand and refused a role call of 700,000, as the late [Marshal] Fahim Khan was claiming. We created a national army through sheer grit. Within six weeks of my work, we created National Telecom. Kabul University. Transition. [My record is clear], whether it’s culture, whether it’s education, security… 

Second, the economy is in crisis. Who in Dr Abdullah’s team has the slightest experience of managing the economy? Himself, Mr Muhammad Khan, Ustad Mohaqeq? Who will they bring? How will they understand? How would they understand to move within the accountability framework of Tokyo… Kabul Bank was a clear example. I said I will prosecute the two individuals whose fraud has been determined and recover the assets because the audit reports crystal clearly shows this was a Ponzi scheme to defraud the public. What is the stand of Dr Abdullah on Kabul Bank? He went silent in that debate… On zero corruption, will he tackle the entrenched interests that are a significant part of his campaign?

Ghani challenged Abdullah to debate their relative merits on television. Abdullah told AAN he does not want debates this time, arguing they “took up too much time” in the first round. Is he “afraid of providing detailed answers?” asked his rival. Ghani also challenged him to provide more information on the deals he has struck in the last week:

I have not issued any blank checks to any social groups, political parties, communities that have joined me. I’ve said the government is not mine to dispose of. Ask my campaign… if I promised a single ministry to anyone, a single governorship, a single ambassadorship. No. What has he [Abdullah] promised to Rassul?… Isn’t the public entitled to [know] this? What has he offered governor Sherzai? My commitments to all my partners is on the basis of a commitment to an agenda. It is not that people didn’t request that, but I’ve refused.

The need to question both candidate’s claims

Both of the men left in the race are good, persuasive speakers who have spent years preparing for this moment. Both their stands, however, need some hard interrogating. Abdullah, in his interview with AAN, was short on specifics of how he would run the country and evasive on some key issues, including whether he promised jobs in return for the support  of Rassul and Sherzai and possibly Abdul Rab Rassul Sayyaf. Ghani’s speech is teeming with the detailed ideas of a man who has thought deeply about what he believes his country needs. However, his claims and ideas also need questioning. For example, was he actually the driving force behind the creation of Daikundi province and getting Shia law into the constitution? It would be interesting to hear Mohaqeq answering this.

On two claims Ghani made in his interview with AAN, as a former BBC reporter in Afghanistan, I can question one and back the other up. Ghani said the Consultative Loya Jirga which authorised the signing of the BSA in November 2013 was evidence of the actual overwhelming support for the BSA in the country. AAN was not so sure at the time that the BSA jirga was not packed and organised by the government (see our reporting here and here), so taking it as evidence either way is questionable. More worryingly, Ghani also cited the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga as an example of the jirga as a decision-making body, independent of the state.

The Emergency Loya Jirga was probably the last opportunity for the power of commanders not to be cemented into post-2001 Afghanistan politics (see AAN reporting here). In June 2002, I witnessed the Afghan political and civilian elites, supported by the US and UNAMA leadership, hijacking the process, ignoring and side-lining the hundreds of delegates who, in many cases, had risked life and limb getting selected (partially democratically) and getting to Kabul. Ghani was among those elites at the time, along with Abdullah, Mohaqeq, Fahim, Dostum, Karzai, (now Vice-President) Abdul Karim Khalili, the then US ambassador, the Afghan-American Zalmai Khalilzad; they met separately and negotiated a new cabinet among themselves, arguably breaking the tenets of the Bonn Accords, and ensuring the leaders of the various militias maintained their power.

On another claim, however, Ghani was right. The late Marshal Fahim, as minister of defence in 2002, did try to claim salaries for 700,000 men under arms whom he said had fought the Taleban. The number was inflated and Ghani, as minister of finance, rejected it, arguing most were ‘ghost’ soldiers. His ministry was threatened by armed men loyal to Fahim, who was then the most powerful man, politically and militarily, in the country. His stand was key to putting limits on Fahim’s power.

Hard campaigning ahead

Ghani’s fighting talk makes a negotiated agreement and a ‘unity’ government look extremely unlikely. He may still be describing Abdullah as his “partner in a democratic process”. However, from his talk, one can also expect the campaigning this time to be fiercer with the possibility that contentious – and important – issues like war crimes are raised (see AAN reporting on this here). With only two men left in the race, their plans and teams should face far more scrutiny. The campaigning period for the second round – due to start on 22 May and end two days before vote on 14 June – looks set to be an interesting time.

(1) See arguments in favour of holding a second round and against.

(2) Presumably Ghani is speaking about informal polling carried out by his team after the first round vote. There were no independent exit polls.

(3) Peace has four dimensions: there is the national dimension, where we need to build consensus on what is a systematic approach to peace. I want an enduring peace, not a peace that is going to be a prelude to another war. 50 per cent of peace agreements globally break down within 5 years because they have not been thought through… And enduring peace means agreement on institutions, security institutions, not parcelling out the government.

Second, at the sub-national level, we have distinct variations because we need to hear the grievances at the sub-national level very, very carefully and deal with them. That is a lot more reconciliation than peace, but it’s a genuine attempt at reconciliation because every mosque, every elder, every woman is to be engaged to produce a type of mutual trust.

The third dimension is regional and has two components. One is our immediate neighbours, especially Pakistan. The second is the big regional powers – China, India, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates. At that level of the regional powers, there’s a rare consensus on the need for peace and stability and this I really see as an opportunity. It’s been rare in the case of a regional conflict where the regional powers haven’t used [the conflict]. It’s a big opportunity.

The fourth level, which is US, NATO, Europe, Japan, we’ve seen since Jan 2013, the differentiation between Taleban and al-Qaeda by President Obama. This gives us the possibility of producing alignments within these four levels.

In terms of Pakistan… the government of Mr Sharif is reaching a conclusion that can be the basis of our future approach, that extremism is a strategic threat to all states. Not to be used partially, as good or bad. If that understanding is there, then we can have an assured medium and long-term horizon of cooperation. Because a shift in thinking of Pakistan, especially its intelligence apparatus, is going to take time. Turning this tanker around requires a lot of help, but the international situation demands peace. And the second realisation is: Pakistan can not be peaceful without a peaceful Afghan. That provides a significant base now to move.

And at the national level, this election, [the] 5 April election is really a mandate for peace. We now need to act on this to produce the results. Last point on peace which is: peace won’t bring immediate security. The reason is very simple but it needs to register because it’s important. Peace removes the political motivation for violence, but violence is criminal motivated too, very, very strong criminal motivation and if you look at peace agreements in many, many countries, criminality is one of effects of peace, so we need to be prepared to deal with those elements that use the cover of the name of Taleban or other elements to perpetrate full criminal regime. This is going to require pursuing the agenda of sec transition. Because in the next nine years, we have a commitment of 36.5 bn [dollars], but it needs to be translated into institutions that can secure every Afghan. So as part of the peace agreement, we must all agree that we entrust our security to the state not going to a model of different militias.

Take the Quetta Shura – 50 people – they come, their first question: how do you ensure our security? We say we have local police. We’ve given it to others, we’ll give it to you… They say fantastic, give us 500 [armed men] per person or 1000. How many months afterwards will there be clash? This is not a recipe for peace. This is not an institutional agenda. So peace needs to be taken as a peace map, systematically. One reason we’re asking for a government of national unity is that we can have the key elements necessary for peace-making within the government that peace is not an issue of division because. In terms of slogans, everyone acknowledges, but when you come to a precise map, that’s when need to put your heads together and give the country peace. We cannot afford war.


2014 Elections BSA Ghani Taleban Transitional Justice