12 Critical Steps for Ashraf Ghani to Stabilize Afghanistan

If Afghan President Ashraf Ghani follows these 12 steps, he can help steer his nation on the right path toward stability and security.

Ashraf_Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank technocrat and world renowned economist, secured decisive victory in the most popular and controversial elections of Afghan history.

Replacing Hamid Karzai, President Ghani’s tasks include opening the door for peace talks with Taliban and renewing ties with the West which have declined following Karzai’s refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States.

President Ghani, who will be sworn in next week, leads a national unity government and faces 12 crucial tasks to provide stability and security in Afghanistan.

1.  Sign the BSA and restore ties with the West

At the end of the consultative Loya Jirga on November 27, 2013, former President Hamid Karzai took everyone by surprise by adamantly refusing to accept security cooperation with the United States.

President Ghani’s first task would be to sign the BSA without delay, and this will not only revive the trust between the two countries but will also serve as a strong support for his newly elected government. Additionally, it will reiterate the commitment of Washington to Kabul that they will not be isolated again as it happened after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that helped bring about the Taliban.

2.  Enhance security

The real challenge for President Ghani will be to improve security. Large parts of the country are suffering from growing insurgency as well organized crimes. Suicide attacks, roadside bombing and kidnapping have become a daily occurrence. Many merchants have left the country fearing abduction and murder. While a vast majority of international security forces will leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014, President Ghani will have no choice but to fully use the existing capacity of the Afghan security forces to provide better security.

3.  Increase employment

Hundreds of men get together at many major intersections in Kabul and provinces before the sunrise. They seek labor that is usually strenuous and always temporary, paying just several dollars. Despite billions of dollars from the donor community to rebuild this war-torn country, nearly 12 million people are unskilled day laborers according to International Labor Organization report. Ghani will have to spend all his energy in coming five years to make sure at least 60% of the job seekers are employed.

4.  Combat corruption

“My right hand is clean from blood and left from corruption,” Ghani proclaimed several times during his election campaign. Indeed, he knows better than anyone what corruption has done to Afghanistan. The country is on top list of corrupt countries in the world based on a Transparency International report. According the UN the total cost of corruption reaches to almost $4$billion a year, and that is 30 percent higher than the normal budget of the country. Ghani’s biggest achievement would be to bring Afghanistan from the number one corrupt country to number 10 within five years. Reaching number 20 would be a miracle.

5.  Negotiate with Taliban and bring peace

Karzai and the international community failed to convince the Taliban to set conditions for peace talks. However, Kabul and Washington helped the Taliban open an office in Qatar, although it was closed soon after when Taliban accused the US for breaking promises. Ghani’s first attempt would be to build trust between the two parties and open the door for negotiation. If Ghani succeed to bring peace to this country, he would be considered an Afghan Nelson Mandela.

6.  Reform Education

Afghan youths seeking higher education should pass the Kankoor exam, the national tertiary entrance exam, to be admitted to universities. To most of the youngsters getting higher education is an impossible mission. Every year more than one hundred thousand youths can’t make it to universities. An overwhelming majority of Afghan youths who supported Ghani have high hopes he will save their future by providing quality higher education.

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7.  Control warlords and tribal elders

Many Afghans believe Karzai was gifted in the way he brought all the warlords and tribal elders under his wings and in most cases used them to support his government. Unlike Karzai, however, Ghani is more decisive, and he needs to find a way to manipulate the warlords and tribal chiefs to his advantage to strengthen his government.

8.  Improve infrastructure

Another major task for Ghani will be to improve infrastructure. Many roads including the nationwide ring road in Afghanistan are still in terrible conditions with very few two-lane highways; and there are too few international airports in the country with very limited resources that can’t provide quality services.

9.  Fight narcotics

The country is also number one in narcotics production. Afghanistan is badly stereotyped for its poppy production, and Ghani will have no choice but to take effectively combat the drug economy. He will only succeed if he can find a more profitable substitute to poppy cultivation and a fine market for the agriculture products of Afghan farmers.

10.  Don’t trust Pakistan

It’s been more than three decades that Pakistan has directly or indirectly meddled in Afghan politics. A majority of Afghans believes that Pakistan is behind all of Kabul’s crises, underscored by Pakistan sheltering of Taliban and fueling the Afghan civil war in 1992.

Pakistan has been very good at playing a double game: One side that supports the Taliban and another that purports to be a Western ally against terrorism and receives millions of dollars from international community.

It would be an irrevocable mistake to trust Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as mujahideen (holy warriors) leaders did with their interim government, getting slapped in the face during the civil war and Taliban appraisal in return. Ghani will have to break the ice and accomplish the job that Karzai couldn’t do in 13 years by building mutual trust and confidence with Pakistan which will compel Pakistan to change its strategic depth policy in Afghanistan. Ghani will also have to convince the US and Europe to aid in ending Pakistan’s duplicity.

11.  Be aware of Iran

The well-known former mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Masoud told many times to his followers “Friendship with Iran is as dangerous as hostility with Pakistan.” Iran has developed close ties with Karzai’s government but has never acted as an honest friend. On one side Iran aided in Afghanistan reconstruction and on the other side secretly supported the Taliban. Iran is also actively involved in fueling ethnic tensions in Afghanistan. Ghani should be cautious about Iran and will have to keep the balance between the two rival one, a close neighbor and another strongest ally, the US.

12.  Strengthen ties with China and India

Both China and India have enormous potential to aid Afghanistan in various ways to reach peace and stability. The second and fourth largest economies of the world can certainly assist Afghanistan in training and equipping the Afghan security forces. Although China and India are old rivals, both maintain friendly ties with Afghanistan.

China and India would also be a strong support for investment in agriculture, health, education and industrial sectors in Afghanistan. India has played an active role over the past 13 years in Afghanistan compared to its old Chinese rival which always remained in ambush for the Afghan mines and has never taken active part in the Afghan affairs. Ghani understands the importance of a neighbor like China and a friend like India and he should enhance ties to use their capacity for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in a more productive manner.

Ahmad Hasib Farhan is a graduate of Kabul University and holds a Master degree from Japan in Public Policy and Economics. Farhan is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political and socio-economic affairs in Afghanistan. Farhan can be reached at haseebnadiri@gmail.com.