Taimur Sharan‘s latest book, From Inside Afghanistan: Political Networks, Informal Order, and Government Disruption, published by Routledge Publications, is a comprehensive exploration of state building, network government, and network governance. It consists of ten chapters covering topics such as post–construction state building, political battles, elections, the structure of the Afghan government and parliament, and the fall of the government. The book has been praised by many observers of Afghanistan, including Andrew Watkins of the United States Institute of Peace, who called it a pioneering work and a story that has never been told in the last twenty years. Sharan‘s previous book, Network Government, was widely accepted by Afghan bibliophiles, making this new book an extension of that. Of particular interest is Chapter 6, which focuses on the National Unity Government and the personality of Ashraf Ghani, who Sharan worked with in his government for some time and witnessed its developments, changes, and struggles.
- Hasty Modernist
The sixth chapter of Sharan‘s book, titled ‘Government of National Unity: Disruption in Political Order and Tensions’, provides us with a wealth of information regarding Ghani‘s governance and those close to his team. Timur Sharan states that Ghani had an obsessive interest in the changes and reforms in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this resulted in him frequently abandoning one reform project and beginning another, creating a perpetual cycle.
In his book, Sharan discusses Ghani‘s meticulous management style, which often led him to focus on minor details rather than more pressing matters. As an example, Sharan mentions the annual conference of district governors in which Ghani would present a presentation and then ask questions about governance, demanding a written answer within two days. Two days later, Ghani would compare the responses to demonstrate that he had read 4,500 pages, “while he could leave such a task to one of his assistants. Especially when Kunduz was collapsing.” Pamela Constable, a Washington Post columnist, had previously described Ghani as a “shrewd and autocratic manager”, and further commented that Afghanistan has many problems, with the president (Ghani) being one of them.
- Eternal Anger
Sharan reported that the ministers were always worried about being embarrassed and belittled by Ghani during the cabinet meetings. Without providing additional details, Sharan stated that two cabinet ministers had confided in him that, out of fear of Ghani, they were taking anti–depressants in order to get a better night’s sleep.
Sharan stated that Ghani was easily influenced by those in his inner circle, who would use this to their advantage by convincing him to reprimand their disgruntled ministers in cabinet meetings. In May 2018, when Ghani was due to present the ‘Citizen–Centered Governance: A Roadmap for Local Governance‘ at a cabinet meeting, Sharan encountered three young members of the cabinet. During their conversation, they discussed the president‘s anger and one of them asked who they should choose for the meeting. This anecdote, which Sharan included in his book, demonstrates how people around Ghani would take advantage of his personality type to incite him against others.
- Tribal Nationalist
Sharan presented statistics from the Ghani government that clearly demonstrated his tribal nationalist tendencies; 75% of those in the administration were Pashtuns, four were Tajik, one was Hazara, and one was Uzbek. Sharan believes that Ghani was particularly partial to Ghilzay Pashtuns, and those close to him such as Hanif Atmar (the national security advisor), Salam Rahimi (the head of the affairs department), and other officials were all Ghilzay Pashtuns. In the later days of the republic, other people close to Ghani included Fazal Mahmood Fazli, Hamdullah Mohib, Nader Naderi, Mohammad Qayoumi, Ghulam Jilani Popal, Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, and Akram Khaplwak, all of whom were from the Khogyani district of Nangarhar and, thus, Ghilzay Pashtuns. Sharan further wrote that after the 2014 elections, when the list of ministers was released, the selection of ethnic groups was evident, and other leaders viewed the president‘s approach as ethnicization.
- Ethnicization of Government and Army
Sharan‘s narrative suggests that, whether intentionally or not, Ghani had laid the groundwork for the downfall of the government by ethnicizing the government and the military. He caused the security sector to fail through irresponsible changes in the military. Sharan also noted that Ghani had issued a decree appointing 23 new generals, 19 of whom were Pashtuns, two were Tajiks, one was Hazara, and one was Uzbek. Ghani‘s ethnicization of the government sent a message to his government partners that they were free to hire employees based on ethnicity. Additionally, Ghani’s appointments were unconventional, which caused internal dissatisfaction. For example, Ghani appointed Mohammad Omer Safi as the governor of Kunduz, a non–Pashtun majority, which later led to the fall of Kunduz in 2015.
- Monopoly of Power within Arg
Ghani made a concerted effort to gain a monopoly on power, particularly through non–parallel administrations. According to Sharan, Ghani divided the Ministry of Transportation into three sub–departments due to the Minister of Transportation being a member of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah‘s party. However, when one of Ghani‘s relatives became the Minister of Transportation, these departments were reintegrated. To this end, he established the Afghanistan National Procurement Authority (NPA) so that he could directly oversee that sector. During his presidency, this department was solely controlled by Ghani‘s ally. The monopoly of power in Arg had gradually become corrupted. On multiple occasions, Ghani took steps to bring government revenues under the control of the affairs department, while the revenue ministry was a fundamental body of the Ministry of Finance.
- Conflict with Everyone
In his book, Sharan explains that Ghani had a conflict with almost everyone. At the beginning of his presidency, Ghani had a dispute in parliament, accusing its members of blackmailing the ministers, which caused many parliament members to not vote for many of its loyal ministers. The conflict between the legislative and executive branches was one of the factors that contributed to the dissolution of the unity government. Sharan further explains that Ghani was not content and began to quarrel with leaders of the opposition party. He had a disagreement with Atta Muhammad Nur in Balkh and allied himself with Ismail Khan in Herat. Ghani worked to weaken the foundations of power, which provided the opportunity for the Taliban to gain strength.
Ghani also opposed the two movements led by young forces, which aimed to bring about a generational change in Afghan politics, and suppressed them using traditional methods of jihadist leaders. This demonstrates the contradiction between his words and actions, as he claimed to eliminate traditional leaders, yet he became one in order to prevent the movements of the new generation.
Reviewing this chapter of Taimur Sharan‘s book reveals that the fall of Afghanistan on August 15 was not a sudden, one–dimensional event, but rather a result of Ghani‘s weak leadership from the start. Ghani‘s decision to ethnically divide the army and government not only caused the downfall of his government, but also caused Afghan society to become increasingly divided along ethnic lines.