Ashraf Ghani’s Afghanistan
Can an efficient government and an improved economy in Afghanistan do what twelve years of conflict and nation-building by international forces have not? Ashraf Ghani believes they can. Ghani, a highly educated, pro-Western, intellectual alternative to Afghanistan's age-old system of corruption and warlordism, served as Afghanistan's finance minister under President Hamid Karzai from 2002 to 2004 and subsequently refused to take on any further cabinet positions because he saw that Karzai was reluctant to go after corrupt power brokers who added to bad governance. In 2009, he campaigned and challenged Karzai alongside several other candidates in the presidential election, but flopped with only 3 percent of the votes. This time, however, he is one of the leading contenders in the ongoing presidential race to succeed Karzai.
Ghani is currently locked in a head-to-head race with Abdullah Abdullah, another major contender, and although it remains to be seen whether Ghani will emerge victorious in next month's runoff, many of his significant accomplishments while serving under Karzai go unnoticed.
As finance minister, Ghani undertook sweeping reforms, including issuing a new Afghan currency; introducing a country-wide budget; centralizing government revenue; adopting and institutionalizing a single treasury account; and computerizing the ministry's operations. Additionally, he reformed the country's tariff system and overhauled customs so that the government receives the bulk of the customs revenue, and adopted regular reporting to the Afghan cabinet as well as to Afghanistan's international partners as a tool of accountability. Ghani took tough measures against corruption and sacked corrupt officials, ignoring the risks of reprisal. In one example, Ghani even refused to pay the Afghan Defense Ministry after rightly questioning that the figures provided by the Defense Ministry about Afghan forces were overstated so as to claim extra funds. Ghani's tough stance against graft has prompted alarming calls from his political opposition that if he becomes president, half of the Afghan government employees will become unemployed.
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Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.