Morning rays of sunlight had risen above the high walls surrounding his home. The warm beams brightened his burgeoning garden. The red, ripening tomatoes were coming in well.
We ate breakfast together. Eggs, Afghan bread, sweet jam, and coffee were spread across the white-clothed table. He asked me if I took milk in my coffee. “No, thank you,” I replied, “I drink it straight.” “Ahh, a purist,” he joked, “I was a purist once, too.” That was before his stomach troubles began.
This was months before the 2014 Presidential election, and before he declared his candidacy. I listened carefully as Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai outlined the policies he believed would move Afghanistan forward. We had several follow-up conversations. His vision and platform grew stronger and more detailed over time.
He had long contemplated another run for the Presidency. He competed in the 2009 election, but received only a small portion of the vote. He artfully distanced himself from visiting U.S. officials such as Richard Holbrooke, who seemed to be promoting rivals to President Karzai. Robert Gates later confirmed in his book Duty what Karzai had suspected. Ashraf’s discretion earned him even more respect from the Afghan President.
Dr. Ghani discussed the challenges as Afghanistan entered its first truly competitive election. He outlined a vision for an agreement he hoped all candidates would sign. It would affirm support for the Constitutional electoral process. The loser, he said, should congratulate the winner. The winner should embrace the loser and work together to form a capable government that would unite all Afghans.
This outreach was essential, he believed, for success in Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power in its proud but often troubled history. Political violence would only strengthen the enemies of Afghanistan. So would cronyism and corruption.
He detailed the policies and plans essential to move Afghanistan toward a peaceful and prosperous future. The political transition, he noted, was much more than the election. It would require the formation of an inclusive and effective government. Political reform was essential. Afghanistan needed to come to grips with the corruption that had so undermined the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the Afghan people and international supporters.
The Afghan National Security Forces would need to grow in confidence and capability, but must become more self-reliant. Economic progress was essential. Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is estimated at over $1 trillion, but would take many years to reach its potential. As the country at the center of the Asian heartland, Afghanistan would need to grow its economy in the near-term through trade, commerce, and customs.
Thirty-five years of war and violence must come to an end. A dignified, inclusive, and responsible peace process would be necessary to address the traumas of the past three decades. He was adamantly opposed to a peace deal among a handful of elites around a gilded table. These had failed utterly in the past. Instead, he noted, a multi-level process was needed that addressed local, national, and international dimensions of the conflicts gripping Afghanistan.
Improved regional cooperation would be required for these efforts to bear fruit. Afghanistan lives in a tough neighborhood. More effective coordination could reduce the fears that have prompted external actors to undertake destabilizing actions.
See the BBC interview with President-elect Ghani. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-29312884
Dr. Ghani has embraced Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. As the next Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani will need to translate his compelling vision into an effective game-plan that will rally Afghans and international actors toward a peaceful and prosperous future for his country. He will meet plenty of resistance, both internal and external, along the way.
Let’s hope he and the Afghan people have the strength and perseverance to succeed.
Christopher D. Kolenda is the Senior Military Fellow at King’s College London and the President & CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership, LLC (www.kolendastrategicleadership.com) which helps NGO’s maximize their impact in conflict zones. He has been as a key advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan to three Secretaries of Defense and four ISAF Commanders, to include serving four tours in Afghanistan. He is the author of Leadership: The Warrior’s Art and The Counterinsurgency Challenge.