In an interview, Ghani talked about the violence plaguing Afghanistan and efforts to fight corruption
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently sat down for an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Here are edited excerpts:
Statistics suggest a country that is unraveling. The Taliban have gained territory. What are you doing to reassure people you have the situation under control?
A generational change has been brought into the leadership of the minister of defense. The finances of the ministry have been completely overhauled. This was the ministry that was known for its massive corruption. Now, lack of compliance is an exception.
Transition was premised on the engagement of Pakistan, and Taliban, with peace. Instead, they unleashed a total war on us. Have we suffered casualties? Massive. But this is a transnational war. This year the Afghan army has been at its best. Are we in the middle of war? Absolutely. What would you have asked Churchill as a measure of his success in 1944?
I went to Pakistan; I engaged in peace. If a hand extended is not shaken, what are you supposed to do?
If Pakistan doesn’t change, what is the solution for peace? How much can you rely on China or the U.S. to help?
My central objective is, turn Afghanistan’s location into a greater asset. Central Asia is becoming Afghanistan’s major trading partner. The vision of connectivity is really important. It offers Pakistan an alternative. It really needs to understand that Afghanistan is going to be key to its potential prosperity and connectivity.
What are you doing to reassure all political factions that the next elections will happen, and that they will also generate a real contest?
The election commission has announced a firm date. I would have wanted the date of the election much sooner, and if I were managing it, it would have taken place sooner. But I’m deferring to the due processes and we’re insisting on full consultation. Why did the election not take place earlier? We were fighting a war for our survival and we could not do two things simultaneously. The election of 2018 and the presidential election of 2019, is a must. Full attention is focused on both.
A number of coalitions have formed against you, including members of your government. These groups are accusing you of autocracy and concentrating power among Pashtuns. What are you doing to reassure people that your government is inclusive and how much of a threat are these factions?
First of all, decision-making has never been this collective in our history. Is there any ministry in Afghanistan that is exclusively of one ethnic group, or one main group? Are these decisions made in secret? Are they made in an open process? The high councils, every single one of them, are inter-ministerial. What is really required is investigative journalism, is to differentiate between fact and fiction, propaganda and reality.
Is there anyone that can claim that the system of governance we inherited satisfied either the Afghan people or our international partners. My entire life has been guided by a sense of equality, equality for loved ones. After the May 31st attack on us, the tragedy of May 31st, I’ve seen at least 7,000 residents of Kabul. Please ask them were they treated with courtesy and attention.
I have no disrespect for the political elite of Afghanistan that is a product of post 9/11, but I am asking for accountability, responsibility. We need to build constitutional authority with rule of law, as the key focus.
What are you doing to convince the public that you are serious about prosecuting high-level corruption?
Corruption was the system. We’re not dealing with an aberration. The movement towards accountability, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, is really taking place. On the other hand, we need to face our history. Every system has a breaking point. You’ve seen how much reaction there is to reform.
So, I would be the last one to say either that I am satisfied or that the job is done. But I think the judgment needs to be made on comparative grounds. And vis a vis the obstacles and the need to keep the political consensus. Balancing is the critical issue. And during the election campaign, I said exactly that.
Every global leader that I have seen has at least agreed on one point: I do have the world’s most difficult job. But I hope to make it easier for my successor.