Saturday, September 03, 2016

Afghanistan has many problems. Its president may be one of them. - Washingtonpost

 On a recent evening, aides to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani invited several foreign journalists to his palace for an “informal conversation.” The journalists arrived to find a lavish picnic supper set up on the lawn. Soon after the guests sat down, the president unexpectedly strolled up and joined them. 

Ghani’s government is grappling with relentless poverty and insurgent violence, and the president faces unprecedented internal dissent and public attack. He is accused of being an autocratic micromanager and a remote academic with no feel for the common man. On that evening, though, he seemed confident, sympathetic and utterly unperturbed. 

Holding forth on the Afghan economy, he rattled off head-spinning statistics about irrigation and living standards. Asked how he could appear relaxed with so many crises swirling around him, Ghani waved the subject away. What upsets him, he confided, are meetings that don’t start on time. “Crises,” he added with a serene smile, “make me calm.”

Ghani’s performance seemed intended to both dazzle and disarm his small audience, something he has failed to achieve with the Afghan public. At 67, with a history of health problems, he spends 18-hour days on the job, reaching for the sky with long-term regional development schemes and digging deep into the state bureaucracy to root out corruption.

Yet these superhuman efforts, popular with foreign donors, have generated little domestic goodwill. They are resented by officials whose authority he has stripped away and ex-militia leaders who expected the old patronage system to keep making them rich. Meanwhile, disillusionment is deepening among ordinary Afghans as the government has failed to bring jobs or security.

“President Ghani is a victim of his own vision,” said Timor Sharan, who represents the nonprofit International Crisis Group in Afghanistan. “His reform agenda created high expectations, but people need to see tangible results. He thought he could sacrifice himself for the future, but if he fails, it will have a terrible historic impact on our country.”

Even such constructive critics say Ghani has been his own worst enemy. They describe him as intellectually arrogant, impatient with underlings and too busy to indulge in the tea-drinking chats with elders and ethnic strongmen that enabled his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, to hold together a divided society emerging from decades of brutal conflict and ideological whiplash.

The other accusation is that Ghani has surrounded himself with advisers from his Pashtun ethnic group and clan, while shutting out those from other backgrounds. Both of his vice presidents are from ethnic minorities, but several of his closest confidants, such as the national security adviser, Hanif Atmar, are fellow Ghilzai Pashtuns. He has also alienated influential Durrani Pashtuns, whose tribe ruled the country for centuries. - Read More

U.S., European military advisers work to boost lagging Afghan combat readiness


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