Ghani’s unrealistic targets not helping Afghanistan’s cause
Every newly elected US president follows the tradition of monitoring their progress toward key policy goals, as promised in the election campaign, during their first 100 days in office. It is called the first 100-day plan. President Joe Biden announced last week that he had been able to achieve the goals of his 100-day plan by delivering on key policy targets such as a robust vaccine distribution campaign, which has exceeded 200 million shots, the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and America’s return to the Paris climate agreement.
Biden’s completion of his first 100 days in power and accomplishments as set out in his plan reminded me of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani when he first came to power in September 2014. He went for something similar: “Pelan-i-Sad Roza” (in Dari language), meaning the 100-day plan. Every single ministry and government entity was instructed to prepare a 100-day plan and take measures to implement it. However, nobody knows even now — his seventh year in office — what happened to that plan. The golden rule in Afghanistan’s governance and state-citizen accountability culture is: Don’t ask; don’t tell.
Afghanistan is no match for America. It makes no sense when the weakest country in the world copies the political tradition of the strongest. It is fine to learn from the American values of democracy, justice and rule of law, but every country has its own context. The 100-day plan works in America, but not in Afghanistan.
The problem with the Afghan government is not so much about failing to achieve targets, it is more about setting goals that are not realistically achievable given the Afghan context. False promises made during campaigns or later when in office, which are not grounded in reality, erode people’s trust not only in leaders, but also in institutions. The basic principle in development is to promise less and deliver more. Successful and true leaders practice this golden rule during their political careers and maintain their good image among the people.
Upon taking power, Ghani claimed his government would generate more electric power during the coming few years than the combined production throughout the nation’s history. But, seven years down the road, the government has been unable to properly manage even the imported electricity from our Central Asian neighbors due to a lack of security, frequent technical faults in the transmission lines, and the untimely payment of bills. Ordinary Afghans were optimistic about every promise the government made, from bringing peace to improving governance, fighting corruption and generating millions of jobs. However, the reality on the ground is different. According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is among the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption has become more systemic than ever before. Also, Afghanistan has been categorized as the least peaceful country in the world by the Global Peace Index.
Shortly after coming to power, Ghani established the National Procurement Authority (NPA) to improve the public procurement process. As per the new rules, every government contract exceeding $2 million has to be channeled through the NPA. Although the intention may have been good, the result is absolutely not. Critics think that corruption is now more centralized as a result of the new procurement procedures. Increased bureaucracy and extended delays have also impacted the timely delivery of projects.
Good governance is not about concentrating power within the presidential palace — it is about the devolution of decision-making and empowerment of institutions. However, Ghani has continuously tried, from his first day in office, to reduce ministerial control over policymaking and day-to-day administration by establishing parallel institutions at the office of the president.
It makes no sense when the weakest country in the world copies the political tradition of the strongest.
Merit-based recruitment rarely happens in Afghanistan nowadays. The office of the president intervenes in almost every single mid to high-level appointment made by ministries and government entities. The extent of politicized recruitment in the public sector is unparalleled in the country’s history. It is true that the Afghan constitution has conferred upon the president excessive power, but good leadership is not about the absolute monopoly of power; it is about empowerment and collaboration.
Ghani has dozens of advisers, most of whom are only symbolic and lack any specific roles and responsibilities. High salaries, posh offices and protocols are unfair and too much of a burden for a poor country like Afghanistan, which largely depends on foreign aid for its operations.
Although it is too late for President Ghani to right the wrongs, he can still go down in history with a good name if he sincerely commits to the peace process, instead of killing time to complete his term in office through delay tactics.
- Ajmal Shams is Vice-President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party and is based in Kabul. He is a former Deputy Minister in the Afghan National Unity Government. Twitter: @ajmshams