Afghan Voters Choose a Better Future

If there is one person in the world most suited to govern the turbulent land of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani would be, by knowledge, temperament and sense of democratic justice, that person. Lo and behold, he was just elected president of Afghanistan!

Ashraf Ghani is a former professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, as well as a former official at the World Bank and the UN, where he advised government and civic leaders on the creation of the Bonn Agreement, which was the basis of the re-establishment of the Government of Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion. He participated in innumerable ground-based assignments regarding economic development in China, India and Russia. He understands global diplomacy and the nuances of Afghanistan. According to the 2013 World Thinkers poll by Prospect magazine, he was rated the number two public intellectual in the world for his writings, studies, and convening skills.

Ghani was born in Afghanistan in 1949, a son of its largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. After living and teaching in the United States, he ran the Loya Jirga—the grand council of elders—that established the Afghan Interim Authority in 2001. In 2002 became a chief advisor to President Hamid Karzai, then became his Finance Minister, and then later Chancellor of Kabul University. In each position he made his mark, including becoming the first public official to disclose his assets.

As Chancellor of Kabul University, Ashraf Ghani initiated participatory democratic procedures for faculty, students and employees. Proving to be a meticulous scholar and observer, Ghani then started the Institute for State Effectiveness which developed ten yardstick functions that a state should fulfill in service to the people. Ever the innovator and connector, Ghani, and his colleagues, developed an annual sovereignty index to measure the effectiveness of government for the people and their mutual relationship with international agencies.

Along the way, Ghani received numerous awards including being named the best Finance Minister in Asia for 2003 by Emerging Markets magazine. When power so often succumbs to enrichments and inflated egos, Ghani is a man who resists temptation. He has a cheerful disposition, a problem-solving personality, a belief in effective communication, and practical solutions and possibilities for Afghans based on where they live, work and raise their families.

Asked recently why he was seeking the presidency amidst the violent turmoil and poverty of his historically invaded country, Ghani replied “Because it is such a difficult task”.

I’ve known Ashraf Ghani and his family since his teaching days at Johns Hopkins. I knew of his wide-ranging interests and ability to see through propaganda and verbal pomposity. As a comprehensive, functional progressive, he is not strapped to any prejudging ideology. During our visit to California in 2012, he spoke of traveling to scores of Afghan villages to sense their expectations, their rhythms and their responsiveness to practical engagements to develop community economies, health care and education. His experience in the creation of the National Solidarity Program, which provided block grants to villages for plans devised and implemented by village councils, helped him in his visits to various Afghan villages. Today, that little-noticed program covers over half of Afghanistan’s 21,000 villages.

When he becomes president on September 29th, President-elect Ghani will inherit a state besieged by an expanding Taliban insurgency, a contentious prime minister (Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the candidate who came in second), conflicting tribal interests, an uncertain army and police force, U.S. and allied soldiers everywhere, a narco-economy where growing poppies is 20 times more lucrative than growing wheat, criminal gangs stealing and corrupting, and a widespread popular belief that conflict will strike down any rise of unity and solidarity.

I believe Ashraf Ghani understands that if he refuses to bend under these circumstances, he will break. He is going to have to adapt to politically challenging situations and harsh choices while weaving the unity and solidarity that he is so capable of creating, given time and the opportunity.

He has stated on numerous occasions that the answer to terrorism is justice. How he moves that redirection of the Afghan nation while the ground erupts all around him will take more than the combined skills of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

The Afghan population is an asset because the people are ready for government officials with honesty, smarts and the ability to get results. They want exactly what Ashraf Ghani can deliver for them: basic necessities, public works and stability for their families and communities in as self-reliant a manner as possible.

The editorial in the August 15, 2014 issue of Science magazine noted a potentially positive national asset for Ghani: “the hyperspectral survey of Afghanistan by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2007… quantified 24 world-class mineral deposits (including iron, cobalt, gold, copper, and rare earth elements), positioning Afghanistan to become a major supplier of minerals…”

No one knows better about the worker or the distributional, environmental, and contractual protections needed before such minerals are subjected to extraction than this practical, inclusive renaissance man with an inherent personal touch, who is about to lead this war-ravaged country.

Will Ashraf Ghani be given the elbow room to exert his remarkable leadership capabilities to bring out the best from Afghanistan? Or, will the forces of disintegration, once again, reassert themselves to dissect and divide a country that conniving outsiders and corrupt insiders will not leave alone?

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Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!