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The South Asia Channel

NUG One Year On: Success

As Afghanistan approaches the anniversary of the establishment of the National Unity Government, a review of the country's transformations affirms the success of the year-old agreement.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - JULY 12: Afghanistan's presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (L) and Abdullah Abdullah (R) shake hand at a joint press conference followed their meeting to put forward a power-sharing deal to resolve the dispute over preliminary election results in Kabul, July 12, 2014. Both candidates have committed to abide by the result of the most thorough audit. Afghanistan would audit all eight million votes cast in a runoff presidential election last month as part of a deal to end a tense power struggle between the two candidates. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - JULY 12: Afghanistan's presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (L) and Abdullah Abdullah (R) shake hand at a joint press conference followed their meeting to put forward a power-sharing deal to resolve the dispute over preliminary election results in Kabul, July 12, 2014. Both candidates have committed to abide by the result of the most thorough audit. Afghanistan would audit all eight million votes cast in a runoff presidential election last month as part of a deal to end a tense power struggle between the two candidates. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This October, the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) will complete one year in office. President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the NUG, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, are proving that a dual executive can work on the hard journey of state building. Together they have been tackling economic, political, and security issues — mostly inherited from the previous administration — laying the foundations for a new Afghanistan.

Ghani, a visionary, and Abdullah, a political pragmatist, have changed Afghanistan in eight ways:

  1. A Long Term View for Afghanistan

Ghani is the first president of the country to present a long-term vision for Afghanistan and its role in the region and the world. Politically, he envisions a diverse and democratic Afghanistan. Economically, he is trying to turn Afghanistan into the central hub of transit, trade, and energy for the region.

Though in the short term there is little to show, the people of Afghanistan will one day realize the impact of his long-term view towards the economy, if the required policy-making stability remains in place.

  1. An Assertive Commander-in-Chief

Former President Hamid Karzai generally played little role in the security affairs of the country. He was a pacifist by his own confession and, from time to time, even punished his own commanders over the excessive use of force when fighting the Taliban.

On the contrary, Ghani is an assertive commander-in-chief that takes a keen interest into the security affairs of the country. He holds regular video-conferences and security briefing meetings with both the leadership and the commanders in the battlefield to assess the security conditions of the country. Unlike his predecessor, Ghani’s approach seems to have made the commanders more conscious of their duties and inculcated a sense of responsibility towards their duties.

  1. Creating Political Space for a New Generation of Young Afghans

One of the peculiarities of the NUG is that the usual bureaucratic suspects — who Karzai kept appointing and reappointing — are gone. According to Ghani, the three statistical majority groups, the youth, women, and the poor, now have unparalleled access to the public service ladder. The NUG has thrown opened the doors of the Presidential Palace, government ministries, the judiciary, and the security forces to the young generation of Afghan bureaucrats.

  1. Time Management and Efficient Use of Resources

With help of the new governance mechanisms put in place in the aftermath of the formation of the NUG, such as the newly-formed High Office of Procurement, the new Afghan government has saved millions of dollars in preventing excess payments to public works projects. This has also assisted in preventing graft and corruption in the ministries and institutions of the Afghan government.

Furthermore, Ghani asked cabinet ministers and departments to prepare 100-day plans and assign targets timelines for delivery of services to the nation with a scorecard. This has made the ministers more accountable and in a rush to perform. This mechanism will be used to assess ministers and public officials against their performance.

  1. Opened Up a New Chapter with the International Community

Ghani has succeeded in restoring the confidence of and improve the relations with Western allies. The successful conclusions of the December 2014 London Conference and NATO summit on Afghanistan in Brussels, and Ghani’s March 2015 address to the U.S. Congress are some of his landmark achievements during his first year in office.

In addition, Ghani has also been successful in reaching out to key regional players such as China, Pakistan, India, Russia, and other Central Asian states to take an active role in Afghanistan’s economic development and contribute to the regional security architecture.

  1. Fight Against Graft and Corruption

Many countries questioned the political will of Karzai to go after graft and corruption. Ghani, in his first week in office, dispelled any worries of the same. He reopened the Kabul Bank embezzlement case and tried the perpetrators in a public trial, set up the High Office for Procurement, and took action against corruption in big public contracts, canceling a fuel contract with the Ministry of Defense and firing officials.

  1. Overhauling the Public Financial Management and Economic System

The Afghan economy is stagnant and has had a double-digit dip from 13.5 percent growth rate in 2002 to 3.5 percent in 2014. A mix of indigenous and exogenous factors have contributed to this sudden decline in economic growth, such as decline in foreign aid and the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, which has had an indirect effect on the local economy and slowed the pace of reforms in the Afghan revenue and tax administration. Ghani, a former World Bank official and finance minister, has taken robust steps to reform the Afghan public financial management system and is considering key amendments in the Afghan public procurement law as well as reforming the tax code.

Meanwhile, Ghani is trying to stimulate the economic sector by committed Afghanistan to various regional economic and transit projects such as the as CASA 1000 electric line, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, and the China-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran railway project. His actions firmly show that he believes the future of the Afghan economy belongs to the regional trade and transit infrastructure and architecture.

  1. Regional View of the Security and the Economy

Ghani views the Afghan security and economic dilemma within the wider regional security and economic context. He recognizes that many of the Afghan security and economic problems have regional roots. The underlying notion of Ghani’s view is that the fate of Afghanistan is tied to the region and his proposed solutions are regionally based. The prosperity and stability in Afghanistan have spillover effects on Central and South Asia and vice versa holds equally true, something Ghani recognizes.

Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Tamim Asey is an independent researcher and writer based in Kabul and has served as a senior adviser to the Afghan government. The views expressed are his own.

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