Ashraf Ghani’s Legacy for Afghanistan: A Bankrupt Government and a Desperate Nation
By: Ali Sajad Mawlaee
On Friday, May 19th, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani celebrated his 73rd birthday. Ghani had been the president of Afghanistan from 2014 until his departure on August 15th, 2021, which resulted in the collapse of the republic government and the return of the Taliban to power after two decades of insurgency. Numerous books, articles, and texts have been written about the fall of the government in Afghanistan; however, many aspects of the collapse of the Republic of Afghanistan remain to be uncovered, requiring extensive research and exploration. This article does not aim to discuss the dimensions of the collapse of the republic in Afghanistan, but rather to examine Ghani’s legacy for Afghanistan.
In 2014, Ghani, after a protracted electoral dispute with Abdullah Abdullah, was elected President of Afghanistan and formed a National Unity Government. This government was flawed from the outset and had numerous weaknesses. To gain a better understanding of Ghani’s legacy for Afghanistan, it is necessary to first analyze his management style.
Autocratic and Omniscient
Many who worked in the Afghan government between 2014 and 2021 expressed dissatisfaction with Ghani’s management style, characterizing him as a micro-manager. Ghani was known to become irate over minor matters, and he was often insulting to ministers and other high-ranking government officials. Additionally, he was an extremely authoritarian and dictatorial manager, wanting to have complete control over all matters and to have everything done according to his wishes.
Ghani sought to personally interview ministers, deputies, general heads, provincial security commanders, army corps commanders, ambassadors, general consulates, governors, deputy governors, generals, and anyone who held a position of high, medium, or low management. He would often intervene in matters such as the replacement of governors of districts in Kabul City or the change of district education managers. The president would frequently order the dismissal of the district commander and the criminal investigation commander, and sometimes he would go to the security districts to oversee operations. Ghani had the illusion of omnipotence, believing that he was in control of all matters.
In an article, Pamela Constable, a columnist for the Washington Post newspaper, stated that Afghanistan had many problems, with President Ghani being one of them. Constable described Ghani as a “shrewd and autocratic manager,” whose managerial style was a major issue in Afghanistan. Ghani’s ideas had no relation to the actual conditions in Afghanistan, and his ambition to create jobs and constructions in the country could not be realized due to the circumstances at the time. Ghani’s associates claimed he worked 16 hours a day, but the results of this effort are unknown. If we assess Ghani’s record during his seven-year tenure, it appears that the output of his 16-hour workdays was minimal, and with his departure, any progress made was lost as all structures were dismantled.
- Discrediting the Election Process
Ghani’s first legacy was to discredit the electoral process in the eyes of the public. The 2014 election was one of the largest in Afghanistan’s history, and the level of public participation was described as high. The enthusiastic presence of people at the polling stations was seen as a sign of a brighter future for Afghanistan, but the rigging and fraudulence of the election undermined the trustworthiness of the democratic process in the eyes of the people.
The formation of the National Unity Government and the sharing of power with his election rival Abdullah, as well as the events that occurred during the seven years, were detrimental to Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy. In the 2014 elections, seven million people went to the polls to determine their fate. However, in the 2019 presidential election, the number of votes was drastically reduced to less than two million, and the Election Commission also declared one million votes invalid.
These figures demonstrate a drastic decrease in people’s enthusiasm for the electoral process. The extensive fraud and rigging of the elections, as well as the formation of a coalition government with an electoral rival, dealt a fatal blow to the democratic body in Afghanistan and caused citizens to lose faith in this process. The electoral crises of 2014 and 2019 weakened the fragile foundations of the government’s legitimacy, ultimately resulting in its downfall.
- Parallel Structures and Monopoly of Power
Ghani attempted to gain a monopoly on power. Since the governance structure was a power-sharing agreement with Abdullah owning 50% of the government, Ghani attempted to gain more power by creating parallel departments. During the later years of his tenure, power was concentrated within the Arg, the former presidential palace, and the entities related to the presidency, effectively taking on the role of the cabinet. The Administrative Office of the President had unlimited power, and practically determined the schedule of the ministries, leading to the paralysis of the cabinet and the dismantling of the Afghan bureaucracy.
The National Procurement Department, established by Ghani to reduce corruption in the government, had become a hub of corruption itself, causing companies seeking contracts to pay large amounts of money to the department’s officials. Additionally, the National Security Council’s advisory office was interfering with the daily operations of three security agencies, causing dissatisfaction among the employees and impairing the organs. The National Security Council was also responsible for appointing district security commanders.
According to Timur Sharan, the former deputy of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), Ghani divided the Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation (MTCA) into three smaller departments due to the minister belonging to Abdullah’s party. Later, when one of Ghani’s relatives became the minister, the departments were re-combined.
Ghani’s tight-knit group’s monopolization of power enabled more corruption, with members of Ghani’s party heavily involved in it, which caused the government’s credibility and legitimacy to be damaged in the eyes of the citizens. The citizens were fed up with the unprecedented corruption in Ghani’s administration, and this was one of the contributing factors to the downfall and failure of the republic in Afghanistan.
- Ethnicization of Government and the Army
Despite Ghani‘s education in the West, which should have made him cognizant of the need to prevent local tensions, sectarian and ethnic divisions, he was unable to avoid becoming mired in ethnic politics. During his two terms as head of government, racism conflicts were more prevalent than ever before, and Ghani was accused of not being impartial. He was a strong proponent of localism when it came to appointing government officials and cadres, and he chose people from a particular region of Afghanistan, such as the well–known trio of Ghani, Mohib, and Fazli, who were all from Logar and its neighboring Nangarhar.
At the start of his tenure, Hanif Atmar was the National Security Adviser, Abdul Salam Rahimy was the head of the Administrative Office of the President, and other close associates of his were largely from one tribe and a few provinces. In the years that followed, Fazl Mahmood Fazli and Hamdullah Mohib were among the most prominent figures near the president, both from the Khogiani district of Nangarhar. Nader Naderi, Homayoun Qayoumi, Ghulam Jilani Popal, Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, Kabir Eisakhel, Shamim Khan Katawazi, Fazlhadi Muslimyar, Masoom Stanekzai, Attaullah Nasib, Pamir Patang, and Akram Akhpolwak were among the other politicians who had a close relationship with Ghani and mostly hailed from the same area. Meanwhile, Dawood Noorzi, head of the Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), Hikmat Khalil Karzai (a political appointee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and Shahzaman Maiwandi, head of the Environment Department, were among the few cadres who were not from this area but were considered close to Ghani in the secondary circles.
This tradition had been in place before Ghani, and its effects were visible in other political groups vying for power. The system that was established after the Taliban‘s downfall was based on an ethnic division of power, with the names of the ethnic groups being included in the constitution and national anthem. However, ministries and other offices were sometimes used as the personal domain and place of influence of certain prominent individuals from a certain province or district. The criticism directed at Ghani is mostly due to the expectations of the middle class and intellectuals, as he is an educated person with a good reputation in intellectual circles and is familiar with modern systems.
It was widely anticipated that with Ghani‘s ascension to power, there would be a shift in the deviant political rule and the political climate towards a more inclusive, democratic system, free from ethnic and local tensions. However, he, like a rash and myopic politician, resorted to conventional methods and tools to strengthen his power and continued to manipulate the rules established by his failed political predecessors, and in some cases exacerbated those shortcomings and exacerbated tensions.
- Rejuvenating the Government
Ghani‘s attempt to rejuvenate the government of Afghanistan with individuals who had taken Western education, but were unfamiliar with the culture and politics of the country, as well as inexperienced in working within the government institutions, proved to be a legacy that had the opposite effect. His practice of appointing people to important positions based solely on their having a document from a Western university was both theoretically and practically wrong.
Ghani‘s method caused a great deal of disruption within the government, and many of the youths appointed by him were mired in corruption and were not competent enough, resulting in not only a severe blow to the government, but also damaging the reputation of the young people in society. According to Mohammad Omar Daudzai, the head of Ghani‘s campaign office, Ghani had repeatedly stated that he wanted to revitalize the government, but it ended up being a mere game.
- Unconventional Appointment
Ghani‘s slogan was to recruit specialized people, but in practice, he acted in the opposite manner. Most of the people he recruited lacked the necessary knowledge for their respective roles. For instance, he appointed a computer software engineer (Hamadullah Mohib) as ambassador to the United States and then as national security advisor, and a doctor (Fazl Mahmood Fazli) as a consultant for public and political affairs and then as the head of the Administrative Office of the President. These two examples demonstrate Ghani‘s unconventional decisions in government. Additionally, Ghani disregarded regional considerations when making decisions.
As an example, Dawood Laghmani was appointed as the governor of Faryab Province without any consideration, which was met with resistance from the people. Faryab is mainly populated by Uzbeks. After being rejected by the people of Faryab, Dawood Laghmani was surprisingly appointed as the governor of Ghazni, but he left the townhall of the province before it fell. These unusual appointments not only immobilized the cabinet but also exacerbated the ethnic divide.
Facebook-based Government and Flattering Brokers
Under Ghani‘s rule, governance was reduced to a focus on showmanship and social media–based government. Government officials spent much of their time deciding what to post on social media or how to present a small business in the best light. This was an attempt to gain favor with Ghani. Additionally, a practice known as “Facebook trolling“ became popular. In each department, many people were hired to advertise for the head of that department on Facebook and boast about their work. Furthermore, the culture of flattery had become widespread, with many people flattering a wealthy individual or their close associates in order to advance their own position.
A Desperate Nation
Ashraf Ghani, an expert on failed states and author of a book on the subject, was expected to leave a more lasting and beneficial legacy. He had studied in the West and was familiar with the diversity of ethnic groups and meritocracy, but he failed to put these teachings into practice. His legacy is a political, social, and economic failure for Afghanistan. Nevertheless, his attempt to give more roles to youth and women was a commendable effort, even though it ultimately failed due to corruption. During his presidency, Afghanistan‘s ethnic relations became highly divided, and the current ethnic climate is the legacy of his rule and those around him.
 Sharan, Temor (2023). Inside Afghanistan: Political Networks, Informal order and State Disruption. New York & London. Routledge