Former Afghan Prime Minister Weighs U.S. Troop Surge
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
We're going to talk more about the Obama administration's plans for Afghanistan which the president laid out in his speech to the nation on Tuesday night. In a few minutes we'll talk about the reaction to the new approach in neighboring Pakistan, which plays a far bigger role in the strategy than many Americans might have expected.
And later, we'll talk with two progressive activists about an issue that has engaged many Americans: how President Obama's new strategy may affect the women of Afghanistan? But first, we want to hear from a former Afghan government official, the former finance minister under President Hamid Karzai. From 2002 to 2004, Ashraf Ghani served with Karzai. He oversaw the creation of a new banking system, the introduction of a new currency, and foreign aid. But he eventually resigned from that post because he says he was dismayed by the corruption in Karzai's government.
In 2009, he decided go up against his former boss in the race for the Afghan presidency. He was one of 32 candidates. He came in fourth. But he's remained involved. He is the co-founder of a think tank which explores ways to strengthen civil institutions and, in fact, he just returned from Kabul, and he joins us now in our studio in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us, especially so soon after your trip.
Mr. ASHRAF GHANI (Former Afghan Finance Minister): It's a pleasure to be with you.
MARTIN: Can I just get your top line reaction to the president's new approach? You've talked about the fact that he is proposing an immediate build up of troops, some 30,000 troops, that would bring the number of troops to about a 100,000. But he also said that he hopes by July of 2011 that he will start bringing troops home. So, if I could just get your top line reaction.
Mr. GHANI: The first thing is that ambiguity has been removed. There was a period as to what the choice the president would make and what would be the implications of that. And a period of uncertainty is usually very costly for all actors concerned. Now that period of uncertainty has come to an end. The why question has been settled. Now the focus overwhelmingly will shift on the how question. How do you get the objective done? Is it possible to get the objective done in the 18 months? And once you are asking that, then you are focusing on the best ways of achieving the objective. Here the key is not just the number of troops but whether the additional capabilities regarding governance, politics and development can be mobilized.
MARTIN: And can they?
Mr. GHANI: They can be mobilized depending on the approach that's taken. If the civilians, so-called civilian surge means putting thousands of inexperienced civilians on the ground in Afghanistan, that's not going to work. By contrast, if we try to make use of modern technology and actually create a surge in the United States and hook it back to capabilities in Afghanistan, that can work very easily. What I mean very concretely, for instance, is 20 land grant colleges could be brought into an alliance to really modernize Afghan agriculture. But if contracts are provided to beltway bandits, they will waste it. We need to think how to mobilize the best of U.S. capability, so U.S. lives can be saved and Afghan lives can be improved, not going around the traditional contracting system of the beltways.
MARTIN: Well, to that point, you have said - and you among many others have focused a lot on the issue of corruption. And, for example, yesterday we had as guest a former U.S. Army captain who told us that whether we like it or not that the Taliban are seen in some ways as more honest than the Karzai government. I just want to play a short clip.
Captain TUPPER: Down in the little district centers you see the Taliban has more influence and the people look to them more as a maybe fair governing body than the actual government itself. And I think therein lies the big problem we face in Afghanistan.
MARTIN: Do you think that's true? I mean, and when you talk about corruption, what do you mean and realistically what should the U.S. be doing about that?
Mr. GHANI: I mean about two sets of corruption. One that is legal, and that's the U.S. corruption because it's a system of slicing of the pie. So, out of a dollar of civilian aid only 10 cents gets to be spent in Afghanistan, out of military aid only 30 cents gets to be spent in Afghanistan. This is a contracting system that's gone haywire.
There is now security development NGO complex in Washington that's as powerful as the old military industrial complex and this needs to be reformed. Congress has a very, very important role in reform of American foreign assistance because military success now depends on getting the system right. Ten billion dollars was spent on the Afghan police. The Afghan police is still as corrupt, if not more corrupt. So, that's one part.
Second is, in United Nation's agencies, none of them disclose. They report as to what they have spent the money. They have spent billions of dollars, one billion dollars only on the election. But no report, no database as to what's been created. The other component is the corruption of the Afghan government.
And here the first issue is narcotics. Narcotics is so dominated, the economy and the security field that (unintelligible) of office in the police sector became very common because the narcotics routes are extremely lucrative. So, a person who is paid $50 or $100 a month pays a bribe of 60,000 or 100,000 to get a six months rotation to be able to make money from narcotics. The second area is contracts. Contracts are really big. And here, again, there is collusion. You know, an American boy who was under 25 got a contract for over a $100 million and has now been indicted in a court and his previous credentials was being a hairdresser.
MARTIN: So, the bottom line is you feel that there are things that the U.S. can do administratively that will address this�
Mr. GHANI: Absolutely.
Mr. GHANI: Absolutely.
MARTIN: And we should talk more about this and I hope we will. Finally, very briefly, we only have 30 seconds left. You say, what about the Taliban?
Mr. GHANI: The Taliban has not become more popular because they run an incredibly harsh regime. Yet, in terms of judicial decision making, they are looked up to compared to the government because the government's very corrupt. So reform of the judiciary is one of the central tasks and, again, can be done.
MARTIN: Ashraf Ghani is a former minister of finance in Afghanistan. He recently ran for president of Afghanistan. He is the co-founder of the Institute of State Effectiveness. He is co-author with Clare Lockhart of the book, �Fixing Failed States.� As we mentioned, he's just back from Kabul and he was kind enough to join us in our studio today in Washington, D.C. Ashraf Ghani, thank you so much for speaking with us. I hope we will speak again.
Mr. GHANI: Pleasure.