Fixing Failed States: From Theory to Practice

Fixing Failed States: From Theory to Practice

Lecture by Ashraf Ghani

President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Chair: Michael Keating

Senior Consulting Fellow, Asia Programme, Chatham House

4 December 2014


Robin Niblett

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Chatham House. Delighted you could all join us this evening. I hope that you will join me and my colleagues at Chatham House in giving a very warm welcome to Dr Ashraf Ghani, president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. It’s a pleasure to have you back here with us today. The last time you were here was 2008 actually, the last time you spoke here, in a very different capacity. So we’re all the more pleased to be able to welcome you here today.

Let me just say a word or two about the format, which we’ve been working with as we walked down to the room here. I think the format that the president has agreed to undertake is actually the ideal one, which is that he is going to be in conversation with my colleague, Michael Keating, rather than giving us a prepared statement, and then taking questions. I think this way certainly we’ll have the opportunity to make the most out of this evening.

I’m especially pleased to be able to do it because Michael Keating is the co-director of our project, a two-year project running right now, on ‘Opportunity in Crisis’. I think the title, as Michael has noted to me before, was maybe bold and even a gamble a year and a half ago, but captures that element of opportunity in crisis. I think the way we’ve been able to get to this moment of having you here today – the conference taking place in London, the agreement after the recent elections – there is a moment of opportunity, even if it is still a period of great difficulty in Afghanistan. We look forward to hearing your remarks on this.

Our project has been running for about a year, thinking about how we can contribute in our small way toward supporting you and others to think about peace, reconciliation, development, security in Afghanistan. A series of papers we’ve had a chance to put out, and you can find them all on our website if you wish to follow up there.

I want to remind everyone this is on the record, and it is also being live-streamed. So welcome to our members and guests who are joining us in that particular way.

I think although, Mr President, you are well known to all here, it is worth me saying just a couple of words in terms of introduction, as well for those who haven’t had the opportunity to hear you speak before. Dr Ashraf Ghani was brought up in Afghanistan but, like many, had to leave for his education outside the country. Held a distinguished career academically both in anthropology and in political science. Took those skills over into the World Bank, where he specialized in international development, working in South Asia. Following the fall of the Taliban in 2001, he returned to Afghanistan. He advised then interim President Hamid Karzai and was the finance minister in the transitional government of Afghanistan in that period. Having not joined the government in 2004, he co-founded (very importantly, with Clare Lockhart) the Institute for State Effectiveness. I think it was probably in that capacity that you joined us in 2008. He also served as chancellor of Kabul University and on many commissions looking into issues of dealing with failed states and transitions, the issues that you’ll be discussing with us today. He went back to Afghanistan, served as chairman of the Transition Coordination Commission in 2010, and carried on in that position until he resigned to run for the presidency in 2013. And now, being declared winner on 22 September.

So enough of the introduction. Here’s an opportunity for us to turn over to you, to hear your insights and your thoughts about the future, and for me to hand over to Michael. I want to mention and also recognize his colleagues Matt Waldman and Mina Bahadur, who have both been working tirelessly on this project with our colleagues in Norway, the United States and Afghanistan. We’re so pleased to be able to follow up on those ideas. Over to you, Michael, and thank you all for coming today.
Michael KeatingMr President, may I echo Robin in saying what a privilege and pleasure it is for us to have you here. I know how busy you are while you’re in London. There’s a cricketing expression called a googly, which is when a ball is bowled at you which you weren’t expecting. And you just bowled one at me, because –

Ashraf Ghani

You’ve done that repeatedly to me, so what’s new? [laughter]

Michael Keating

– because you’re not going to make prepared remarks, we’re going to have a conversation. What I’m going to do is open the floor up after a while, because I know there are a lot of people bursting to ask you questions. I think the first obvious question to ask you is: when is the next edition of your book coming out? Because you wrote it eight years ago and it’s very rare to have the author of the manual actually managing a state and implementing, as it were, your own theories. Have you learnt a lot even since the time that you wrote the book with Clare Lockhart, six or seven years ago?

Ashraf Ghani

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful: first of all, thank you for having me. I was so looking forward to Chatham House Rules being applied in Chatham House, but of course, I love a public conversation. Thank you for those kind words.

Yes, because learning is a continuous process. Let me just make a couple of framing questions. The first thing I’ve learned is how to create political capital. What the technical discussions ignore is fundamentally that all processes of state formation are political and moral. You need a moral compass in order to put the country above yourself. That means you have to generate political capital, not political division. The act that my colleague and friend Dr Abdullah, our VPs, our old friends, were able to take in Afghanistan required both moral courage and determination and a sense that divisive politics would lead to denial of opportunities to the absolute majority of the people. Hence, that’s the first point.

The second is, there is a lot of discussion of political will in the literature, but it’s not grounded in anything. So they say, well, they either have political will or they don’t. What’s the dynamic of creating political will? The first basis of having political will is to have political capital, because then you calculate how much of it you’re willing to use and how will you renew it.

This means going back to one of the critical issues we put in Fixing Failed States, that the purpose of the state – if you still speak in that kind of moral language – is to serve the citizens. I’m a servant, and as servant, I know who my masters are. My masters are the citizens of Afghanistan. So we need to be able to generate the decisions that allow this dynamic. We have taken hard decisions. It has resulted intemporary depletion of our political capital, but because they were based on well-thought-through actions, the capital got enhanced.

The other is: governing, unlike academic thinking, is relentless. Time does not wait for you. Had we not confronted the Kabul Bank on the second day, I would not have the political capital to speak to the world or to our people. Had we not taken the decision to approve the bilateral security agreement, sign the bilateral security agreement and the status of forces agreement, we would not have had the consensus. So these are part of the issue.

The other is: theory, if it’s to be translated to practice, needs focus. Focus means you have to acknowledge what you inherit, and what you inherit is both dysfunctionality and pockets of excellence. It requires determination to define what the problem is and building the processes of the state. Owning the problem is fundamental to solving it. If you are in denial that we have a problem, we cannot formulate the vision.

Michael Keating

The opinion polls about you in Afghanistan are truly extraordinary. You must be the most popular person since opinion polls started in Afghanistan, but certainly you’re riding very high. You mentioned managing expectations. Yet you face a number of very serious challenges, economic, security, political and so on.

How can you continue to meet those expectations and manage those expectations? You talk of focus, which presumably means priorities as well. Should priorities be set on the basis of popular expectations?

Ashraf Ghani

Two things. Don’t take opinion polls seriously. They will come and they will change. The key is to have a compass. If you don’t have a compass and you shift with the winds, you’re not going to deliver to the people. I’m not elected to be popular, I’m elected to be effective. People are going to judge me by effectiveness, by delivery. We got the talk right; it’s the doing that creates the sense of confidence.

But second, the people of Afghanistan have shown enormous wisdom. I bow to that wisdom. Look, 38 per cent of our women participated in the election. Women who had not gotten out the house for 30 years of their lives, got into cars with their husbands who previously would not allow them or their children, and went and voted. What do they want? Why did they come out? From the remotest corners of the country – you know, I had no money. I had no official backing, etc. But why did people come out with such massive numbers? Because they want profound change.

It’s that sense now, the people – we had to have a notion, very common in political science and other places – the silent majority. The Afghans are not silent. We have a voice. The voice is very loud and clear. So things they want are not things for themselves. People want a different life for their children, a profound overcoming of the last 30 years. So my priorities are those of the people. It’s the sense of balancing those on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, that guides me. I think we will be able to overcome because we have no other choice.
Michael KeatingOne of the interpretations of the elections was that people were voting against insecurity. They were voting for a right to choose. They were voting for a safer future. Yet at the moment, we’re facing a horrendous – and please accept our commiserations for all the violence that is taking place – a horrendous spike in violence, in terms of civilian casualties, in terms of police and soldiers losing their lives or being injured, in terms of people being displaced, IDPs. What do you think explains this spike in violence? Is it a trend or is it a spike? At a time when security is the top priority for everyone, how can this be addressed?

Ashraf Ghani

First, let me put it in comparative perspective. Every movement of violence, before coming to peace, spikes up. Look at every single peace agreement in the world. Prior to reaching peace, there has been an upswing, because it is about negotiating space. It’s about demonstrating relevance.

Second, attacks on civilians are a sign of weakness, they are not a sign of strength. Who but a coward kills people in a volleyball field? Children! For god’s sake, is that the depths in which we have fallen? The Islamic civilization defined humanity at large. We translated the Greeks, we translated the Indians, we translated the Chinese, and gave them to the world. Now, killing the children in a volleyball field is going to deter me? We need to understand that this is a sign of weakness, it is not a sign of strength.

Thirdly, if they feel or anyone else feels that the Afghan state is about to collapse, I have news for you: we have lived 5,000 years, we are going to be there for another 5,000. Don’t misjudge us!

The other thing is: we’re determined. We have a national consensus on peace as our priority. Violence is directed to detract us from the path of peace. We will not be detracted. Political problems must be solved politically, but that segment that is dedicated to violence for the sake of violence will be isolated. The water within which they were swimming, the pond is going to be dried. Let us be clear.

And our security forces, I want to pay tribute to them. They’ve done the job 150,000 ISAF and NATO troops were doing, and against all predictions of four years ago. Both friends of Afghanistan and detractors – we are meeting our security targets. On the 31st of December, the combat mission of ISAF/NATO will end. Afghans again will be in charge of the legitimate use of force. All decision-making regarding the legitimate use of force is going to be based in the Afghan government. This will change the dynamic and the narrative. The narrative was that foreigners are here, foreigners are in occupation, foreigners will never leave. It’s over. We have taken charge and we are an elected government. Besides being elected, we are a government of national unity, and that should count for something.

Michael Keating

Mr President, I think you’ve lifted the spirits of many Afghans by talking about the priority you give to bringing peace. At the SAARC meeting recently you talked about just how high a priority this is for you. You’ve just said that before peace processes start, there is often a burst in violence. Does this mean that you see a peace process as fairly imminent and that you see a peace process as a fundamental element in bringing that violence to an end?

Ashraf Ghani
The peace process is fundamental to bringing it to an end. I’m not going to conduct public diplomacy regarding the peace process. It must be a deliberate process. We intend to deliver, we don’t intend to talk about delivering. Give us the space and the time and you will see the results.

Michael Keating

You’ve just come from a very successful conference in which the formation of the government of national unity has been hailed as a terrific opportunity for the country. You mentioned the three transitions: the economic transition, the political transition and the security transition. I think you were saying that the economic, in a way, is perhaps the most pressing and the most difficult, and where least progress has been made. That’s partly because of the immediate cash flow problem and the long-term structural deficit and so on. How are you going to tackle that, given the number of priorities and given your well-known commitment to creating jobs and so on? How are you going to get into that one?

Ashraf Ghani

First, the economy got distorted because ISAF/NATO became the largest economic actor in the country. So the unintended presence of a very large military organization was a major economic distortion. It’s totally unintended. For instance, the transport sector grew to account for an amazing almost 22 per cent of GDP, because trucking was Afghan for supplies. The construction sector. Every year the percentage of agriculture in the GDP has declined. A lot of cash came but it did not become capital. Also, we have a section of the economy that got heavily criminalized, which is part of global criminal networks. The global criminal economy is $1.7 trillion a year (Davos estimation). The bulk of the profits from the criminalized drug economy goes to the international market.

So given all this, when we started the security transition, I wrote a paper arguing that the economy would face very significant challenges. Unfortunately our colleagues in the development community did not buy my argument. They were very optimistic, and their projections, if you look at them. I argued that the rate of growth could come down to 2 per cent or approach zero, and that’s where we’ve reached.

Michael Keating

Yes, 1.5, I think.

Ashraf Ghani
Exactly, 1.5. So now what do we do? The first issue is market-building has been very weak. The international development community talks about the private sector as though it’s an organic
phenomenon and it exists everywhere. Market-building is an historical process. You in Great Britain, the first [indiscernible]on citizenship was about how freedoms came as a result of removing restrictions on guilds. Civil rights preceded political. We need to look at those problems that the market can solve. There is an immense potential. For instance, 75 per cent of Kabul’s residents are estimated to have informal property rights rather than full property rights. In 1978, probably not more than 5 per cent was informal. Next year we intend to begin a massive programme of giving full property rights to people in situ. Figuring this out, I think we have figured it, is going to be a breakthrough.Michael Keating

This has been tried in Latin America.

Ashraf Ghani

It has been tried in Latin America but on a very small scale. I think we are going to do it with a combination of learning from Latin America and others. DeSoto, my friend, has put the theory. I think with his help and others, we can really do it on a scale that will be very significant.

The second element is to look at Afghanistan’s assets. At first blush, everybody wants to talk about our minerals. I want to reverse the process. We want to first talk about our location. For 200 years, our location has been a disadvantage. In the next 20 years, it’s going to become solid gold. All roads between South Asia and Central Asia can only lead through us. We can become the transfer point with East Asia.

Michael Keating

The roundabout.

Ashraf Ghani

The roundabout, the Asian roundabout. So we are beginning with the first national infrastructure programme, to connectivity. This will generate the capabilities. We’ve moved from theory to practice. Central Asia/South Asia 1000 (CASA-1000): it’s a project that takes electricity from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan. It’s been signed into law and into an agreement, and $1.2 billion of financing is already there. We are moving to turn our first major river into a source of generation of electricity and creating the connectivities.

Our second asset is water. We have five river basins. Except for China, we provide water to every one of our neighbours, yet we only use 10 per cent of our water in modern [indiscernible]. We lose 800 million to 1.5 billion to floods and then another one to droughts. Managing our water is critical now. So 20 dams, all from internal rivers, that have not been completed will be the driver of this.
The third is, we have money. But money is not capital, because firm formation has not been attempted. So how you get – it’s not the private sector in abstraction, it’s formation of firms, small, medium and large. We are turning the budget into an instrument. Our budget is 40 per cent of our GDP but it has not been used to generate economic activities because it’s been an abstract relationship between supply and demand. It’s these sets of connectivities.Lastly and immediately, we want to create one of the most labour-intensive programmes after the New Deal: building on those sets of things and combining it with a lot of approaches that we’ve learned from others, so we can tackle the question of jump-starting the economy.

Michael Keating

The neighbours of Afghanistan, after 36 years of more or less continuous conflict, must need some persuasion that Afghanistan, as you put it, is a resource not only for the people of Afghanistan but also as a resource for them, and a place they can safely invest in. Do you think it’s going to be easy to turn around those anxieties and perceptions and long-held views of Afghanistan as a difficult neighbour, rather than one that is a common resource?

Ashraf Ghani

There are several aspects to that. First, we are not the only source of danger.

Michael Keating

That’s true.

Ashraf Ghani

What the last experience has shown now is that our fates are bound. If you look into the state system, states are the constitutive units of the international system. When one state breaks out or a group of them break out to behave like non-state actors, the entire system weakens.

Second, a collapsing state or a failing state exposes the weak points, the soft underbelly of the system. Exposure becomes very wide. We are in one of those moments, with Syria, with Iraq, with Libya, with Yemen. So this phenomenon – now the risks can no longer be ignored. You could have had attitudes before that there are good and bad terrorists, their support. It’s this dawning of the realization that the threats are common and the response cannot be by single country. You cannot build a fortress around a state or around a continent. As a result of this, I see a new opening.

The second is that the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the take-off of Central Asia now, is opening up a set of possibilities regarding resources that previously were not there. We are reconnecting to our remote past. There’s a fantastic book by Fred Starr, let me plug it: it’s called Lost Enlightenment. It’s about
Central Asia from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th century. It shows how connected the area was, how the connectivities culturally and economically – that culture and the economy interplayed. So we have very deep structures and [indiscernible]that allow us now to resume.

So the story we are saying of the roundabout is not new. This, I think, is being realized and that gives us an opportunity to connect.

Michael Keating

You mentioned Syria and Ukraine. One of the things that’s struck me and was reinforced by listening to some of the words at today’s conference is just how strong the confluence of international interest is in the success of the government of national unity. You cannot say this about the governments of many other countries that are –

Ashraf Ghani

There has been such national division, [indiscernible]a government of national unity.

Michael Keating

Yes. And you have also said just a minute ago that it’s not by your words that you will be judged, but by what you actually do. You’ve come out of the starting blocks at a cracking pace in terms of Kabul Bank and the BSA and so on. But this country has some experience of trying to keep coalition governments together. It’s not easy. What do you think the biggest challenges are going to be in terms of maintaining that unity, given the very difficult decisions that you face ahead?

Ashraf Ghani

I think the risks are much less with us. Your strength is you have institutions, your weakness is that you have institutions. Because when you have established institutions, it’s very difficult to agree on reforms.

Michael Keating

So it’s about making institutions accountable and functional?
Ashraf GhaniIt’s about making institutions accountable and functional. Both of us – Dr Abdullah ran on a programme of zero tolerance of corruption. That’s what we are bringing together. The other is, the risks that you outline, the threats that we face, force us to focus on the essential and not on the superficial. So I’m quite optimistic that we can solve the problem.

Then let me confront the famous question: there is no Ashraf Ghani temper, I hope it’s been shown.

Michael Keating

I am going to open the floor up in a minute, so I hope everyone will get ready with their questions. I’m most grateful to you for being willing to take them.

Ashraf Ghani

You see, you did so well. If I had given a boring talk, you’d just be sitting here.

Q & A Part

Michael Keating

There are some questions that have come in, because your presence was obviously advertised, and some questions have come in. One is on the importance you attach to China, in terms of the success of the government of national unity and in addressing the challenges you face, both security and economic. So I thought that was a question I might pass to you.

Ashraf Ghani

Afghanistan is at the confluence of five intersecting circles: neighbours; the Islamic world; the west, Australia, Japan; Asia; international organizations and international firms. China sits in two of those. China and India are an unprecedented story in human annals of history. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. There’s a 400-million Chinese middle class. There’s a 90-million Indian middle class. We are in the middle of 3 billion people. Afghanistan’s economic growth must, by any way, be oriented towards this market. So it just makes immense sense.

Two, the Silk Belt project of President Xi Jinping, with whom I had the pleasure of detailed discussion, opens up the neighbourhood to the Chinese growth. When you look south, none of the countries of South Asia have come out of factory-driven growth. Growth is divided in three phases: factory-driven, efficiency-driven, innovation-driven. None of the countries, including India, have come out to efficiency-driven. China is efficiency-driven, Singapore is innovation-driven. This allows us the diversification, because the value chains in our mining world, in our agriculture and other resources that we do, China is a factor in.

Second, China is an immediate neighbour.

Michael Keating

Just. Don’t ruin the Wakhan Corridor, Mr President, please.

Ashraf Ghani

Don’t ruin my economic future. Look, people like you – I apologize for the expression, ‘people like you’ – are so good about preaching to us but destroying your own environment. Please stop polluting the world and then tell me to preserve the Wakhan Corridor. The deal I propose to you: buy some of our sun and give us some of your rain.

Michael Keating

We can probably organize that.

Ashraf Ghani
No, I mean, we will preserve, rightly. Of course we are absolutely keen on preserving the Wakhan Corridor. But the connectivity is important. We need to be able. The pipelines from Turkmenistan and ultimately the Caspian to China are a fundamental story and we are positioning ourselves in that regard.

China also has immense experience in infrastructure. The way, if you look at infrastructure in the next 20 years, $36 to 70 trillion are going to be invested in infrastructure globally. A significant part of this is going to be spent in Asia. We want to get our national infrastructure right and the Chinese are going to come and help. Then our mineral wealth requires both, because the transport corridors need to work.

Michael Keating

One of the things you often emphasize is that Afghanistan’s greatest asset is its human capital, particularly its women.

Ashraf Ghani


Michael Keating

Some would argue that the experience of Chinese investment in Africa, for example, has not been as advantageous as it could have been in terms of strengthening human capital. Sometimes it’s even marginalized it.

Ashraf Ghani

I’m looking at China’s investment in Latin America and it’s very productive. We’re not going to be an African country because we are going to determine our fate. We don’t give anyone the right to determine our economic fate. We determine it. It’s a partnership. Mining companies in the west did horrors everywhere in the world and we are learning from those. Look at some of the same companies, now they talk of corporate responsibility, but their histories are written in blood and toil. We want to avoid all of this, because our key goal is the citizens. So it’s not which companies come from where, it’s under which discipline they will work with us. We are keen to develop those.

Michael Keating
That goes to the rule of law as well.
Ashraf Ghani

It’s goes to the rule of law, which is absolutely essential.

Michael Keating

Let me open the floor up. With your indulgence, I’ll take two or three questions.

Question 1

Mr President, it gives me great pleasure to call you that. Congratulations on your election. Nothing has given me more cause for optimism since I left Afghanistan than your election. Please accept my heartiest congratulations. One of the things I get asked about here when I’m talking about Afghanistan, and I try to continue with my enduring optimism, is the importance of international assistance to Afghanistan to help you achieve your own goals. You’ve just come from the London Conference, which was designed to reinforce previous commitments. Are you satisfied with the outcome and are you confident that you’ll get the necessary levels of international support over the coming five to ten years, to enable you to achieve what you want to achieve?

Ashraf Ghani

Thank you, it’s a great pleasure to see you. Thank you for your service both to your country and to mine. We remember you very fondly. Please come again. I cannot impose on you to become UK’s ambassador but you can come as my friend, always. We remember you very fondly, your successors and predecessors.

Yes, I’m satisfied about the reaffirmation of commitments. I’m very satisfied about the overwhelming vote of confidence that we’ve received in both the political course we’ve adopted and the course of reforms that we’ve embarked on. The future depends on our delivery. It’s not a one-sided relationship. Let’s acknowledge the fundamental fact. The citizens of advanced countries, aid donors, have a fatigue. If two years from now, god forbid, Afghanistan ranks at the bottom of Transparency International, there will be no fresh aid. Nobody will have the patience. If we are not effective in delivering on our promises, the amount will not be forthcoming.

So we understand. This is why I’m saying we need to own the problem. We, the government, are going to drive reform. Very soon, I think aid organizations are going to be running after us, saying: we’ll give you more, please stop the reform process. No, more seriously.

The second is: aid has not made a single country rich. It’s investment and trade. It’s getting the institutions right that changes. With our poverty, living below $1.25, it’s 36 per cent of the population. It remains stubbornly so in the last eight years. The divide is intolerable. How can you live under $1.25 when some of our citizens spend $2 million on a wedding? And they do.
So wealth has to become legitimate. That’s our first goal and we’ll create it. But to repeat: it’s a virtuous circle. Reforms, delivery, ensuring that we widen the size of the pie, we increase the value of the proposition regarding Afghanistan. In other words, let me use a bad word: it’s a branding issue. Today our brand has become – yesterday, our brand was difficult; today, it’s acquired a new lustre. We need to burnish this image by continuous delivery. If you do that, I think aid will come. But more than that, investment, transit and trade will come.The key to prosperity is not in foreign aid, it’s in regional economic integration. That’s what we are focused on.

Question 2

You talked about your very impressive-sounding reform programme, President Ghani.

Ashraf Ghani

When one says ‘impressive-sounding’, I know what’s going to come next.

Question 2

It made me tired just listening to all the things you’re going to do. But isn’t it fairly fundamental to have a cabinet before you do implement things?

Ashraf Ghani

Four weeks – we have announced it. It will be in two to four weeks.

Question 2

Okay. The second thing I wanted to ask you was: you mentioned Iraq and the difficulties there. We’ve seen the spike in attacks in Afghanistan in the last couple of weeks. Do you think that the international community is leaving too early or do you think they’re actually leaving you enough assets and resources to deal with the security situation?

Ashraf Ghani
The international community is leaving according to schedule, but the international community is not leaving. We had agreed – I was responsible for heading the security transition. Sir William was there. We
are totally on schedule. The Resolute Support Mission was agreed to yesterday in Belgium, in Brussels. We are entering into a new relationship, and this relationship is several-fold. One, there is a commitment to providing financial resources for the Afghan security forces. This has been affirmed. It’s also a non-combat mission of training, advising and assisting. If you look into our history, the last 13 years are totally unusual. It was we, the Afghans, who provided security to others in the past, not needing. Now the security institutions have been built to sufficient strength to enable us to do our patriotic duty. Just one simple fact: every member of the army, every member of the police, is a volunteer. No one is compelled to be in the army and the police.

Yes, the casualties are enormously difficult. But our police, when it comes to enforcement of law, may have problems, but we’ve had incredibly brave policemen who have embraced a suicide bomber in not one or two – we had a notable number – to save the lives of others. That speaks to an immense sense of patriotism, and that’s what I’m counting on.

We will get it right. But of course, there will be scepticism. Four years ago, a lot of journalists wrote that Afghanistan would collapse today. We have not collapsed and we are not going to.

Question 3

What is the difference between your government now and the previous government, and what are you going to do – something the previous government didn’t do? Most importantly, the opium, the heroin – obviously, you know, the raw materials for it – how are you going to control it? You are the biggest supplier to the world.

Question 4

I’ve just been at the conference where David Cameron and John Kerry were praising the steps you’ve taken to tackle corruption, particularly the reopening of the prosecution of Kabul Bank. When are we going to see the government holding a senior minister or official to account, as the next step in ending the culture of impunity? Because over the last 13 years, there’s not been a single senior member of the government prosecuted or otherwise punished for corruption.

Question 5

I’d like to ask you a question about the geostrategic position of Afghanistan. To what extent do you think the traditional policy of neutrality of Afghanistan has been compromised by signing a bilateral security agreement with NATO and another agreement with the USA? This might indeed reduce the voice of Afghanistan in the world – neutrality being a principled and strong position, and you’re exchanging it for a weak one.
Ashraf Ghani

Let me begin in reverse order. Afghanistan is going to provide a platform for cooperation. Neutrality is a term from the 1950s. Does it still really have an application to 2014? So I think you should take the question back, in terms of deliberation, because it’s a different world. We’re an intersecting point. We want to make sure we’re not a battlefield, and we’re not indifferent: we are dying on a daily basis. You think that is from neutrality? We need to make sure that the world becomes whole. Our interconnected world is not into spheres of neutral or left or right, or red or green. It is an integrated approach that is required to our interconnected world. We are very strong advocates of a regional compact on peace, on stability and prosperity. Our position as the intersection point of Asia forces us to think through. The intersection of the negative side, that soft belly of globalization, again forces us to have alliances, to protect our people and to protect your people in the world.

So it’s a new context, and in this context we want to make sure, one, that our territory is not used against any of our neighbours. And I can assure you that it is not. But second, we are not going to permit anybody to use our territories as a ground for proxy battles. We are not the playing field of anyone. We have earned the right to peace and we are going to ensure that no one looks at us as a playing field for any of their ideas, negative ideas. Positively, we are ground for cooperation and that, I think, we will ensure.

Secondly, prosecution of high-ranking officials – it depends on people bringing. We have just passed the law on public information. Citizens’ movements have the right to take people to court. But let’s understand the critical issue. The critical issue is carving a future with accountability, not going to the 35 years of the past. Reformists who have gotten the balance wrong between transformation and continuity have brought the whole house down. I do not want to engage in the Lenin tango: one step forward, three steps backward. We are going to be determined: every member of the new government from day one are going to disclose their assets, be accountable, update them and make sure. The process of reckoning with the past is part of building the rule of law, and that’s what we are steadily focusing. But don’t ask me to deliver miracles on a single day. We need to maintain our focus and ensure that we move forward.

Narcotics has three components: consumers, transiters and producers, and processers. Yes, we acknowledge we are the largest producer and processer. Who in the room will raise their hand as to where the largest consumers are? The price of an ounce is $1.10 in Afghanistan, $1.15 in Iran, $42 in London, $46 (around that) in Amsterdam. These are global chains. Let us deal with the issue together. We need an alliance without blame games.

If there is a will in the consumer countries to legalize drugs, we have no comparative advantage. Any hothouse will grow it. If there is not that political will, then let us come to solve the problems together.

Where is the solution? The key to the solution is transformation of Afghanistan’s agriculture. Drug dealers pay $17 a day for labour, unskilled labour. The largest public programme pays $2 a day. Where do you think unemployed people make their choice? In theory we have access to the markets of advanced industrial countries. In practice, we don’t, because we don’t have the knowledge, the value chain. Who can help us most? Tesco, Wal-Mart, the consortium of supermarket chains that know how to organize supply and demand.

The other is we are looking very much forward to persuading Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others to link their food security with long-term investment in our agriculture, because that transformation is fundamental. Without this – and the history of drug eradication in Thailand and others should be an example.
Where do we differ? One area where we differ fundamentally is in the focus on the economy, in our regional economic integration and that. Our worthy president, President Karzai, whom I still call my president, took responsibility under a very difficult set of circumstances. There was no paradigm for him or for the world after the tragedy of 9/11. He did what he could. It’s a difficult balancing act. The judgment needs to be made by history. But he is going to earn a place in history by being the first person in our 5,000 years of recorded craftsmanship to have transferred authority according to the rule of law to his elected successor. For that he deserves praise and appreciation and we want to make sure that that space is created.

Our programmes contrast, and I will be taking a direct managerial role in economic issues and issues of regional integration, for which I have spent a lifetime preparing. I hope the results will speak for everyone.

Question 6

I wanted to ask how great of a barrier or facilitator do you see Pakistan in the future political and economic development of Afghanistan?

Question 7

We haven’t talked about human rights this evening, so I have two very quick questions. One is, I’m wondering when we can look forward to seeing a release of the Human Rights Commission’s mapping report. The second question is, I’m wondering if you’ll order prosecutions of government officials who have engaged in the systematic and widespread torture that the United Nations has documented.

Question 8

Mr President, can you tell us your plans for the future emancipation of women in Afghanistan?

Ashraf Ghani

Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing an historic choice together. Do we become the cul de sac that stops Asia’s economic integration, or do we become the lynchpin of this economic integration? We are vital to each other. The dialogue we have started is promising. We are cautiously optimistic. It is essential both to our mutual security, to Asia’s future and to global security that we share a common understanding of the problem and reach common solutions.

The Human Rights Commission can release its report, it does not depend on me. They are an independent commission. I have said that – I had a commitment during the campaign which I will honour, that you would like our human rights record every year to be evaluated by the Human Rights Commission. We will take their findings very seriously and act on them.
Prosecution is up to the court system, not up to the government. With current law, it is clear – the law that parliament had passed, parliament would have to change the law for that. But individuals as individuals are free to bring cases. Muslim law makes a very clear distinction between the right of God and the right of man. The right of God can be forgiven by the state. The right of man can never be – or right of person, because Islam is not sexist actually. It’s a human being who translates literally ‘man’ or ‘woman’. That is always a retained right that no one can take away and the constitution guarantees.

Women, absolutely central. Thank you for that question. In terms of legal issues – I need to leave, otherwise I would love to take ten minutes to describe that – a number of documents are critical to establishing the legal personality of the woman: birth record, marriage record, divorce when they are divorced (because now they are frequent) and inheritance. We want to make sure legal personality is established because this is the base of legal rights.

Second is that the court system – and I’m honoured here that our acting chief justice is with us, Mr Rashid Rashid, a man known for his integrity and judgment. It was, again, one of my first acts – it’s going to fall to me to appoint two judges of the supreme court this year and three next year. That is a phenomenal responsibility. We are going to interview, personally I’m going to interview, dozens of judges to arrive at this. Reform of the supreme court and the court system, the prosecutors, the attorney general’s office, is critical. Rule of law is the fundamental part of empowerment of the women, so the rights that they have, both under shari’a and under civil law and criminal law, are accorded to them.

But what is really fundamental is economic empowerment of the women. Here, my request to all the international community: please stop their training courses. What I asked the French foreign minister yesterday I’m extending to all of you: if you really want to help our women, get the designers in London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York and Tokyo together to design a ‘made by Afghan women’ label. Open up your department stores to our women’s products. Give us real credit, not micro-credit, for women’s entrepreneurship. Let’s think grand-scale. The west loves to talk about the rights of women – could you match it, please, with some practice with us? We are willing – will you partner so that we get real empowerment of women?

The image of the empowered woman is that of my grandmother. She had six sons and none of them dared cull the couple of thousand acres of land that she had in her own right and from her husband ever. She has been dead for 40 years, they are still not dividing it, still [indiscernible]estate. The reason was twofold. One, she was educated. She had been educated in exile, in India, and then returned. Two, she had property. Without the economic basis, the legal rights do not translate. It is fundamentally important to get that part.

A lot of violence against women unfortunately is on economic grounds. Poverty breeds violence. So we need to tackle this. Urban women, particularly poor urban women, are the most vulnerable. Poor rural women at least have access to food, and equal, because they are the agents.

The last issue is cultural change. Women consciously – it’s been studied across South Asia – wherever the system of inheritance is paternal, women enforce patriarchy, in the sense that they prefer their male sons to eat first because ultimately their protection in old age depends on men. This is a fundamental shift, so that they can see – East Asia has changed this in major ways, where the earnings of women. They changed the dynamic and we hope that we would engage with this.
But this is the toughest of the nuts to crack, because it’s the oldest division in humanity. So it cuts across rich, poor, up, down, south, north, west. But we are very keen and I’m always inspired by my grandmother.

Michael Keating

Mr President, I am delighted that your passion for empowerment of women has made you late.

Ashraf Ghani

Thank you.

Michael Keating

You have said, Mr President, you’ve earned the right for peace and you’re determined to achieve it. Thank you so much.