Welcome and Moderator:
Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan Presidential Candidate

FREDERICK KEMPE: When you go around the room you may see a couple of familiar faces, Ashraf. I see David Sedney has sneaked in and someone named Clare Lockhart has sneaked in. Another person named Harlan Ullman has – has slipped through the door. So you’ll see some familiar faces.

ASHRAF GHANI: But what a distinguished list.

MR. KEMPE: (Chuckles.) OK, I think – I think we’ll get started. And we’ve got a good number of people online. I already have a couple of questions from people online, which is great.

So let me start this by saying good morning and welcome. I am delighted that Dr. Ashraf Ghani has taken time off from his campaign to join us for this important conversation on the Afghan elections, but not just the Afghan elections but the context: the economy, the relationships in the region, relationship of course with the United States and allies. The president has had a couple of important speeches in the last week that I’m sure Dr. Ghani will – Ashraf will refer to.

As we said in our invitation to the talk, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Afghanistan, the region and the world. There really is an enormous amount at stake here, not just in the election outcome but what will happen in the aftermath. Defying odds and expectations, Ashraf, Afghanistan has very successfully staged an election in which the people of Afghanistan won big, irrespective of whether Ashraf Ghani or Abdullah Abdullah win now. They’ve won big by voting in huge numbers and facing down threats. The Taliban tried to use threats and offers of payment to keep Afghan voters away from their polling stations, but they failed miserably and we can all be grateful for that.

The first phase of the election produced two front-runners, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani. The run-off takes place June 14th. We felt it important that we hear from both candidates using modern technology, if it sides with our efforts. We’re relying on Skype here so I hope it will cooperate with us. We have invited both candidates to participate and hope that Dr. Abdullah will be available too in the not-too-distant future. The program is being conducted under the auspices of our South Asia Center that we set up in 2009 that covers developments in the region. I’m just delighted that Shuja Nawaz, the director of the center, will join me during the question-and-answer phase as we – as we pose questions to Ashraf Ghani.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must declare that Ashraf is a friend, a dear friend, and has been on our international advisory board for many years at the Atlantic Council, but beyond that he’s been a valuable contributor to our work across a large number of issues. He was the author of an important forward-looking plan for reviving the Afghan economy that was released by the South Asia Center in 2009, and I believe is still on our website. Many of its recommendations are still valid today. And for the audience we have online and in this room he doesn’t need much of an introduction, but I’m going to give you a brief one.

He’s been a key player on the Afghan regional scene, I would say even the global scene, in the past few decades; instrumental in helping to shape the dialogue at the Bonn summit that produced the interim Afghan government after the fall of the Taliban regime. He served as a successful finance minister in the Karzai government and most recently as head of the Office of Transition. And I think the outcome of the election, where we are right now in the transition, in no small part is thanks to a lot of his good work. He’s been a presidential candidate before and brings a deep understanding of Afghan and regional politics and economics but really understands not only the context locally down to the very, very local level – he’s with us from Herat today – to the regional level and then what is the overall context.

I’m going to ask – request Ashraf to speak for a few minutes here in the beginning, where he’s going to give us some thoughts. We’ve got a lot of questions for you. There’s a lot to wonder about here. The event is on the record. And of course, to encourage you all to get the word out and be engaged throughout the event, please use the hashtag on Twitter, which is #acghani – G-H-A-N-I. That’s what we do now, Ashraf. We not only have events, we have hashtags. And so as someone who understands the “Twittersphere” as well, you’ll get that.

So with that, let me turn over to you. And welcome. Thank you for the courage you’ve shown in your country through this whole process. And it’s an honor to have you with us today.

MR. GHANI: Well, dear Fred and Shuja, other colleagues and friends, it’s always a pleasure to be with the Atlantic Council. It’s a lot more fun to be there in person, but virtually it’s still an honor and a pleasure. I’m honored by the introduction, by the long friendship that we have had, but you and the Atlantic Council have always been nonpartisan, and I hope that my esteemed colleague Dr. Abdullah will accept your invitation to speak to the council and set up – sit and explain his views. I’ll be very brief at the beginning so that we can engage in a full conversation.

My first point is that the – eight months ago the world in general, the region in particular, and the Afghan people all were very anxious about the political transition. There were all kinds of questions, uncertainties and anxieties. What I’d like to do, like you, is to congratulate the people of Afghanistan for proving that democracy can be seen as the system that allows us to solve our problems through democratic give and take.

During the 20th century a centrist consensus escaped us. This election has produced the foundation for the Afghan voter to become a citizen. We are not engaging in a process of patronage or patron-client relationship. We are dealing with free citizens, weighing the candidates, making decisions, asking questions. And this really is a remarkable tribute to a people who have taken on the democratic process with full trust. Because of this trust in the democratic process, the center, which is the area of moderation, give and take, is emerging. Extremist forms of the left and the right are being isolated. This, in the region itself, is a remarkable statement of change.

The second issue to be noted regarding the April 5th election was the historic growth of the Afghan National Security Forces who, for the first time, managed to ensure the security of the elections. As somebody who had a leading role in designing the security transition, I’m extremely proud of our national security forces.

Four years ago, when we started discussing the ideas of a security of transition, the same skepticism and anxiety greeted the concept, but the program that we designed, which was one of tranches or phases, in five phases we went from Afghan security forces being in the shadow in a supporting role to a leading role. And this, again, has brought about a remarkable set of changes, and I think the success of this process has been one of the reasons for the recent announcement by President Obama regarding the type of partnership to be forged and renewed and expanded between the United States and Afghanistan.

The third factor has been the role of the media. The modern media has truly arrived in Afghanistan. When we began the process of registration, the public did not have a view of the candidates. The television has come to nearly a significant number of afghan homes and I’ve been struck – dumbstruck by the extent to which the presidential debates were watched across the country and weighed, and on that basis decisions were made. A free media of course also has rough edges, but by and large the nature of public discourse in Afghanistan has been remarkable. John Dewey –

MR. KEMPE: Ashraf, we just lost you. John Dewey – we lost him with John Dewey, right? (Pause.) We’re trying to get Ashraf back by Skype. If we don’t get him back by Skype we’ve got a cellphone connection, so one way or another we’ll have him back in a couple of minutes.

(Technical discussion.)

MR. KEMPE: Ashraf, we lost –

MR. GHANI: Yeah, I’m sorry.

MR. KEMPE: We lost you –

MR. GHANI: I think you –

MR. KEMPE: We lost you at John Dewey. (Laughter.)

MR. GHANI: Yes. So a public is formed through discussion and debate. The debate in Afghanistan has been profoundly formative. All the key issues that the country has faced are being debated. And they’re being debated openly and in a very constructive manner. What underlies this is that in the last five years formation of voluntary association in Afghanistan has been unprecedented. And because of this association, the discussion is not just between individuals and individuals; group mechanisms have emerged to allow this discussion to be formed, so collective formations are taken.

What we are very proud of in our team is that a process of national reconciliation regarding the last 35 years has actually be achieved in practice. We are able to talk across the board to acknowledge each other’s existence, to acknowledge that all of us are necessary to each other, and that a democratic process is key to allowing us to forge a vision of going ahead and to be able to move forward. The view that we are taking is that – unfortunately the country is responding to – is that while we have really significant challenges – and we can come back to the discussion of those – we see the challenges as opportunities because the context has changed.

First, the national context has changed. For the first time in 5,000 years of our history, a leader of the country is going to voluntarily, according to the constitution, leave power and turn authority to his elected successor. This in itself is a remarkable first. Managing this type of first time is an issue that gives rise to a lot of anxiety, but so far we have really managed it.

And sticking to the constitutional process, that we will go to a second round to seek a clear mandate from the people again has been part of our respect for the rule of law. We could have – a lot of people pressured us, or suggested gently that we are – reach a compromise and avoid the election. Our stance – mine and our team – was that a constitutional process needs to be observed so we can have a second round. And that will produce a mandate between two candidates, who can explain themselves to the Afghan public, and one of us will be given a mandate. And if the electorate decides to split its mandate, then that, again, is something that the Afghan political class in the Afghan society needs to deal with.

Second, there is a changed regional context, both in terms of our immediate neighbors and large regional powers. I think that it’s dawning upon everybody that a stable Afghanistan is key to regional stability, that stability cannot be parceled out, that in the game of nations there is no competitive advantage. The advantage arises from cooperation. So what we are putting forth is a – is a concept of a regional compact on stability and prosperity that would allow us to think through the regional dimensions of stability.

In this regard, our team’s insistence is that the conflicts in the region are not between the states. It’s not a state-to-state series of conflicts. Our strategic challenge is from networks of extremism. Networks of extremism require a very different approach to be brought and contained in that those threats are not just local, national or regional; they’re global, and that brings us into a relationship with our key stakeholders.

Because of this – I want to make a couple of more points and then we go to questions: one, the Bilateral Security Agreement. I’m committed to signing the Bilateral Security Agreement within the first week of taking office, which I’m hoping victory will be ours. The reason is that our national security forces need assurances regarding our global partnerships and the resources, both human and material, that would come through the Bilateral Security Agreement.

And the Bilateral Security Agreement, which I’ve been among the key negotiators, I know every word. We’ve waited. It is in our national interest. It is, again, part of our conception of that cooperation in the game of nations is key. This cooperation is foundational both to Afghanistan’s stability, to regional peace and to global peace. The new framing that President Obama has come with, with his West Point speech, telescopes a process that previously we might have thought would take 10 years. This, again, is very similar to President Obama’s decision in ’09, ’10 that he accepted the recommendation of his security team regarding a surge in Afghanistan but he redefined the temporal parameters of those. And as somebody who managed then within those parameters the security partnership that resulted in transition from international forces to Afghan forces (and the assumption ?) successful departure, honorable departure of people who shed a lot of blood and treasure to allow us to move towards a democratic regime, I’m confident that this time again we will need a design process that would allow us to focus on the imperatives of this partnership as they’ve been now defined by the president of the United States.

The last point is that the change parameters, both nationally, globally and regionally, put a premium on transparency and accountability. The Chicago commitments, that are $36.5 billion for nine years after the current reframing will require congressional approval. Global experience has shown that when large American troops are not involved, Congress scrutinize the expenditure of taxpayers’ resources much more carefully and would require full accounting of these resources and their proper expenditure. Fortunately, the Afghan public wants the same.

Similarly with the Tokyo commitments, that are about 4 billion (dollars) a year on the civilian side, there’s a framework of mutual accountability. Without that mutual accountability we’ll not be able to move forward, because in the midst of our pleasure and pride both, so far, on the political transition and security transition, the elephant in the room is the economy. The rate of growth of Afghanistan’s economy was 12 percent in 2012, 4 percent in 2013, might reach zero in the current year because the fundamental reforms that are required to manage the economy have not been tackled and we will inherit an economic situation where the (mix ?) of the economic governance that is going to be required to create confidence of the Afghan – the average Afghan, the investor and the international investor in the international community are not yet in place.

These we will tackle with determination and with full commitment. I’ve made a commitment that we would go – not only do the Tokyo commitments but Tokyo-plus-plus, meaning that we will fully own the reform agenda and articulate it, and that events such as the Kabul bank, where over $900 million of public resources were squandered to rescue a Ponzi scheme, will have no place in our vocabulary.

To sum up, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture. The public is spoken to reject violence, to embrace a democratic process, to participate. Men and women are actively engaging. The youth, which is the absolute majority of the country, instead of taking to the streets asking for overthrow of regimes, like in the Arab Spring, is engaging in constructive politics. All of us are engaging in a national enterprise where we see ourselves as partners.

There are difficulties. There are some types of campaigning that are negative, but the commitment of my team and myself, as we’ve done so far, is to engage the public directly to make the appeal to the best in us. And the best in us is proven to be quite remarkable. Against all odds, we’ve defied the threats of violence, we’ve participated, and we’ve given the democratic process its full chance. It is up to us and our partners that now look at Afghanistan from fresh eyes, not a country that is just known to being the center of narcotics, to being the place of violence, the battlefield of extremist ideas, but a place of hope, a place where a people are looking for opportunity and for a common destiny, and that ¬– a country that will be proud to have regional and global partnership so that we can all transform a region from a source of danger to the world to one of hope and opportunity.

Thank you. And then I’ll take your questions.

MR. KEMPE: Ashraf, thank you for what I think is a very important statement and also a very optimistic and uplifting statement at the same time. So thank you not only for the content of the statement but also the tone of the statement.

Let me – we have a large online audience. We already have a couple of questions there. I think Shuja and I will start, perhaps for the next 10, 15 minutes – we’ll see how far that goes – of asking our own questions, and then we’ll have an additional half-hour, through 10:15 our time, and open up to other questions as well.

You said, importantly, I’m committed to signing the BSA within the first week of taking over, should you be elected. Could you drill down a little bit more deeply on President Obama’s statements, not only on Afghan troop levels but also the important West Point speech, because these are really seen as connected, and then there will be a third one in Warsaw, which I think the White House is seeing as sort of a trilogy, but those two speeches. What are the implications for you of those speeches?

And then connected to that is a question from Luke Johnson, a correspondent from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, passing on questions from the Afghan Service. And his question is, how do you see Afghanistan without international forces in 2017? So those two questions.

MR. GHANI: Sure. The first question is the assurance that needs to be restated. President Obama is committed to providing the resources that were committed in the Chicago summit of 2013. These commitments amount to $36.5 billion over the next nine years to underwrite the financing, the equipping and the training of the Afghan National Security Forces. To put the equation very simply, our national revenue is $2 billion, our current expenditure – security expenditure is over 5 billion (dollars). The projected expenditure on security forces every year during nine years is 4.1 billion (dollars); that 500 million (dollars) of it will come from the Afghan revenue, the rest of it is to come from international revenue.

So this fiscal commitment is extremely significant. The restatement of this would allow us to assure our security forces that we can continue on the path that we’ve started. Our security forces have come a very long way in the last four years, but to fully assume responsibility for the security of the country requires this continued commitment.

Second, prior to the speech, the common understanding was that U.S. military presence within our army corps commands, divisions and brigades would continue for a decade. Now the time has been set for four years. This is a very significant redefinition of the relationship. What it means is that we will need to accelerate our equipping and training programs and arrive at a strategy where every three months we will need to do a very significant amount of reform in management, in leadership of our national security forces.

Contracting, for instance, is going to emerge as a key issue. The fuel bill has been over a billion a year. So accountability now assumes a primacy. We need to be able to show that we can manage the resources credibly, efficiently and transparently. This requires overhauling of systems. Because in the past years the goal was building of capacity, tolerance of certain degree of waste was part of the equation. Now waste will not be tolerated. And again, should I be elected, I’m committed to a full agenda – (audio break) – I’ve formulated and will be able to implement.

MR. KEMPE: We – so we just lost you again, if you’re – if you can hear us.

MR. GHANI: (Inaudible.)

(Audio break) – hear me?

MR. KEMPE: Now we can – now we can hear you again. We just lost you briefly there, when you were talking about the agenda that you would commit to at – after your – after your potential election.

MR. GHANI: So this agenda is an imperative of reform of the security forces. That is the significant implication.

The other part of this agenda that flows from President Obama’s reframing: all excuses by the armed opposition that the United States is going to be seeking permanent bases in Afghanistan and is going to have medium- to long-term presence with very large number of troops is gone.

So the – during these two years the peace process will need to take center stage, and the national, regional, neighborhood and international dimensions of the peace process will need to assume priority. We are committed to making this – U.S. diplomatic engagement becomes critical in this process, and because of that, what I’ve proposed, which is a regional framework of – for cooperation for stability and prosperity, really becomes a must.

Fortunately, China, India, Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, major regional powers, see a stable Afghanistan as an important asset. And in this regard it’s important to see that.

So to sum up, the context of both security, peace and regional cooperation is changed very significantly. U.S. engagement remains. The nature and scale of that engagement is going to require building a full trust between Afghanistan, the Afghan government and the United States, and we are very hopeful that this partnership to the signing of the BSA will be realized, because the BSA has now emerged as the foundational issue. Resolving it rapidly, in a principled manner, in building the type of relationship that I was able to do during the security transition, which never became an issue of public disagreement, gives us confidence that we, the Afghans, can take the lead, as the United States expects us, design a process of cooperation that our mutual interests can be joined together, and we move forward to consolidating the gains that have been acquired through extraordinary sacrifice, both on the part of the Afghan people and on the part of the American people and our allies in NATO and non-NATO countries.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you for that important answer. Just – and fascinating answer – one more question from me and then I’ll pass to Shuja for a question or two. And this reflects my own interest but also some questions we’re getting online. A remarkable aspect of the elections was the creation of coalitions across ethnic and regional lines. What have we seen change and alter in Afghan politics through this, and how has this fared and how may this express itself in the runoff?

It was put somewhat differently, again, from the Afghan service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I’ll read it.

In the past 12 years Afghan politics and the distribution of power have been mostly arranged between a small group of people.

There are rumors that the two candidates are busy again for such arrangements with groups and individuals. Do you think that is how power should be shared?

MR. GHANI: Well, let me ask – answer the first – the second one first. Our team is not engaged in any kind of division of offices. We do not believe in a system of spoils, and we simultaneously do not believe in a formula of winner take all.

Afghanistan, in our judgment, requires a government of national unity based on the program that we’ve articulated and the public has welcomed. We have a detailed reform program that emanates from our name: transformation and continuity.

Why continuity? Because Afghanistan has lacked regime continuity, and our commitment is to make the constitution work. The election has been a critical test of making the constitution work, and we need to make the rest of the constitution – that is, a question of rights and obligations of citizenship, the right to good governance, the right to an effective state, the right to freedom and justice – these are the issues that are central. This conception goes against a narrow conception of the elite that has seen the government as a shareholding company and where they’ve become shareholders. We are rejecting this model.

MR. KEMPE: So, Ashraf, too, in one second, if you could tilt your camera just a little bit. We’re cutting off the top of your head.

MR. GHANI: Oh. Camera.

MR. KEMPE: Yeah.

MR. : Yeah.

MR. KEMPE: Just a little bit.

MR. GHANI: Is that better?

MR. KEMPE: No, the other way, the other way. There we go.

MR. GHANI: Is this better?

MR. KEMPE: Much better. Thank you.

MR. GHANI: OK. Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: Yeah.

MR. GHANI: I’d like my head to remain for a while – (laughter) – because that’s – the slogan in this election might have been “easy goes the head.” And five times people with guns reached within five meters of me to finish me off. But thanks to God and the vigilance of the Afghan people, I’m still with you. So I don’t want a virtual beheading. (Laughter.)

So the model of the shareholding company is not something that we adhere to.

What the election has shown is that the public wants a deep transformation, that the public would really become – (audio break) –

MR. : So is it fair to say – (off mic) – shifts in Afghanistan if Ashraf is elected is a significant jump –

MR. GHANI: It seems that there is a 10-minute timing by Skype –

MR. KEMPE: Yeah. (Laughter.) Sorry.

MR. GHANI: Freedom – things that are free usually have other costs. (Laughter.)

MR. KEMPE: Yes, the –

MR. GHANI: There is no free lunch.

MR. KEMPE: There’s no such – there’s no such thing as – as a free Internet connection. Please continue.

MR. GHANI: So what I’m saying is that the question of coalition farming based on narrow interests is better put to my esteemed colleague Dr. Abdullah rather than to me.


MR. GHANI: And I hope that when you have him, he would be good to provide his answers in that regard.

The broad-based dialogue is really fundamental. Let me first point out a unique feature of our history. Unlike most states in developing countries and in the region, we Afghans are extremely proud that we have never had a separatist movement in our recent history. Our worst days of conflict were about controlling the government in Kabul, not about separating. So there’s a very strong basis for our national unity. We have very deep, cross-cutting ties. That unites us.

And because of it, if you look into the current – the latest movements to Dr. Abdullah’s ticket and mine, it reflects a broad national consensus. We are extremely proud, for instance, to have Mr. Ahmad Zia Massoud, the brother of late Massoud and the former vice president of Afghanistan, join us with the articulated aim to allow an expression of national unity so that politics would not be emphasized. And former presidential candidate, Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, has gone over to Dr. Abdullah’s ticket. Fortunately for us he’s not been able to carry his constituency. They have come to us. But these types of approaches I think speak very well for our national unity.

The north-south – geographically Northern and Southern Afghanistan have had different economic histories, orientation, but our ticket has brought these together. All of us campaigned across the country. We had 73 rallies; according to the count of the Ministry of Interior, Dr. Abdullah 71. And they were in the most difficult parts of the country. This speaks of outreach. I think both Dr. Abdullah and I are committed to being the president of all of Afghanistan, not part of it. But simultaneously, of course, there are differences – fundamental differences in program and orientation that divide our two tickets. And I think the public needs – will make a judgment in terms of who presents the future and has the capability to fulfill the wishes and aspiration, and who is oriented toward status quo or the past.

These are the issues, but our respect, because of our cross-cutting ties, is on one fundamental point, which I want to emphasize: The fairness of process is going to guarantee the legitimacy of the outcome. And what we really want and emphasize is that the shortcomings of the first round should be addressed. We are attempting to address them, and that will give us an outcome that would allow us to govern with a clear mandate and fulfill the wishes and aspirations of our people.

Across the board, in every part of Afghanistan, I’m extremely proud that during the transition process I took 140 trips to the Afghan provinces. There is not a single Afghan province that I have not visited at least two times. The dialogue that I was able to carry intensely across the board allowed me to formulate our program of reform, and that’s why people are responding to an agenda that we first heard from them and our now articulating back to them for their decisions and approval.

MR. KEMPE: In just a sentence or two, shortcomings of the first round that are being addressed, could you say what those are – what those were?

MR. GHANI: Well, yes. The electoral commission, for instance, has fired between 3,000 and 5,000 of its employees for collusion, for fraud. The election commission had 110,000 people that they hired for a day. They could not guarantee the fairness of the process. Ballots ran out 10:00 or 11:00 in key areas. Physically it’s impossible. A single voter minimally needs one minute and mostly requires three minutes. So there were 600 ballots. How could they run out? That meant that ballot boxes were stuffed or otherwise people were being denied.

Some security – by and large security forces remained neutral, but in certain areas they intervened on behalf of certain candidates. The security parameter that should only be the safety zone of election officials and voters requires a hundred-meter distance. The police exceeded this. There were attempts at multiple voting, successfully. There are other forms of fraud that were quite significant. The commissions were not prepared. We have an election commission – independent election commission and independent complaints commission. For the scale of the fraud, they have explicitly argued that this was engineered. Now they need to deal with this.

Monitoring was weak. We, our camp, because we were running on a shoestring budget, emphasized positive reaching of the messages. We thought that once we got our voters to the ballot box they would be able to vote, but voting stations were closed early then reopened, et cetera. There were sets of irregularities that have now been documented quite widely. Both Dr. Abdullah and I are in discussions with the commissions so that we can make sure that during the coming weeks these shortfalls can be addressed.

There were certain governors, police chiefs and others – the president remained neutral but the government was not neutral. That neutrality of the government as well as the president is essential to the fairness of the process. We cannot transform everything to the current Chicago-style electoral politics, not its past century – (laughter) – but we are hopeful that we can make some significant changes that the electoral can be confident that their votes, once cast, are fully honored and we can ensure that the results give a clear mandate to one of us.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you.

Shuja Nawaz.

MR. NAWAZ: I have just two quick questions, one based on your statement that you want reconciliation among all the Afghan people. What has failed in the current reconciliation process, which was dominated by the U.S., and what will you do differently? And would that include a ceasefire announcement inviting all the Taliban inside Afghanistan’s borders to lay down their arms and to become normal citizens?

And the second question, somewhat related, goes back to your discussion of the regional security framework to maintain a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. When you listed the countries, you missed out one name: Pakistan. What do you see as the possibility of engaging with Pakistan to make that a positive engagement rather than with Pakistan being the source of Afghanistan’s problems?

MR. GHANI: Thank you. Let me take the first – the second question first.

I see a fundamental change in the – in the government of Pakistan, based on two basic assumptions: one, that extremism is a threat to the stability of Pakistan and to the stability of the region; two, that takeover by any group committed to a regional agenda of destabilization in one of the countries of the region would result in long-term destabilization of the entire region.

This is a fundamental shift in orientation and in outlook. Because of this, I see that Afghanistan and Pakistan can engage in the type of dialogue and discussion that France and Germany engaged in after World War II. We need to envisage a 10-year process, at the end of which these two countries become pillars of regional stability and can engage in forms of cooperation and mutual cooperation that is fundamental to solving problems that cannot be solved within a single word. This is a fundamental axiom, on the basis of which I’m going to proceed. And this also requires, of course, acknowledging the other stakeholders, both in the immediate neighborhood, like Iran and Central Asian countries, but particularly India, China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey and Russia.

I see a rare consensus among those powers regarding regional stability. It’s because of this that I seek an enhanced diplomatic role by the United States so that the framework that I’m proposing will require solving some problems bilaterally – Afghanistan and Pakistan – some problems trilaterally – Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. A lot of the transit and prosperity issues requires trilateral discussion. Some would require four party; some would require six or eight party. We should not lock ourselves into a single formula. We should reach for variety of mechanisms, the goal of which is convergence, not a set of divergent approaches.

Within this framework, then the prospects of peace fundamentally shifts. One, as I’ve brought your attention, the key objection from armed opposition – Taliban and others – that the United States needs to leave the region, leave Afghanistan militarily, is no longer subject to discussion or doubt. When we began the transition process, nobody believed it. They thought that this was a ploy. So that is the first issue.

Second, reconciliation nationally is the wider process than just with armed opposition. We are a country that suffered from post-stress disorder syndrome. We have been subject to immense violence. One-and-a-half million people have lost their lives. There are over 1 million people internally displaced. We still have 5 million refugees. We have over 1 million disabled people. National reconciliation is going to require a reconciliation of all of us to overcome the generational conflicts that divided us. And a new generation fortunately is coming to the fore who have the absolute majority of the country that do not have this history. So that’s significant.

In terms of specifics vis-à-vis Taliban and others, the problem has been that we’ve been talking about peace talks, not about peace process. So we will shift from talking about peace talks to actual peace talks in a range – a variety of fora, a variety of ways of reaching out. Those who are inside Afghanistan will be approached, from family to family, district to district, province to province, to see what are the grievances.

On the larger sitting, we will engage in meaningful discussions, like, you know, I wrote a piece that – in, I think, ‘7 – ’07 or ’08, that was a review of over 100 peace agreements. There are lessons regarding peace agreements. Those agreements we would draw upon to reach for a comprehensive peace that will bring stability. And this means – one reason for this, that I am insisting that we have a government of national unity after the election, is that inside of the government of Afghanistan and inside Afghan society, we must have a clear consensus on the cost of peace and war in how we will approach (the two ?).

Last point: We are not interested in a peace that is going to become the mother of future wars. So we are interested in a lasting peace. A lasting peace means agreement on national institutions that can cater to the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people, so all of us can live within this.

The current constitutional framework is fundamental to this because the government that hopefully I’ll be heading will have a clear mandate from the people for reforms.

Should there be insistent demands for certain provisions of the constitution to change, those are provided for through constitutional mechanisms. But we cannot go outside the constitutional framework, and it’s important that we arrive at a process that produces lasting peace and that all of us would reach it.

A very additional point: Peace is not going to immediately bring security, because stakeholders in insecurity are far broader than the so-called insurgency or armed opposition. There are smugglers, there are narcotics groups, there are a lot of stakeholders out of a global criminal economy that use Afghanistan as a laboratory. So we need to make sure that our security institutions are strong enough that after the full political process has been worked out, they can contain those elements of insecurity, because one of the side effects in a lot more stable countries in Latin America and Central America has been that insecurity is increased, and we need to be aware of this risk and contain it.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Ashraf.

Let me take two questions now from Harlan Ullman and David Sedney.

Q: Ashraf, it’s Harlan Ullman. Good to see you.

Can you hear me? Sorry. Ashraf, it’s Harlan Ullman.

MR. GHANI: Yes, I can now. Of course, Harlan.

Q: Good to see you, good luck to you and of course good luck to your country.

You rightly pointed out that the future Afghanistan will rest in the economy, in security forces and the process of reconciliation and peace. About the security forces: When ISAF withdraws, what are your plans to deal with the necessary capacity for logistical lift, for logistics, for air and fire support and all the so-called enablers that the Afghan security force is going to need that are provided right now by the United States and the ISAF forces?

And given the fact that this appears to be a real issue, to what degree do you think the peace process can be a bypass for the absence or the tardiness in getting the necessary military capacity ensure that the security forces can carry out their responsibilities?

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, and Ashraf, let me pick up a question here from David Sedney as well.

Q: Thank you. Ashraf, also congratulations to the Afghan people and to you and to Dr. Abdullah (sp) for the way the campaign process has gone. It has really startled many people here in the U.S., both the turnout and, I think, the quality of the election process.

I have one observation that I won’t ask you to respond to and a question. The observation is that the election turnout was so impressive because the Taliban really did try to derail the elections, as they claimed publicly they would, and the Afghan people turned out despite that.

However, there was no diminution of cross-border weapons, explosives and personnel from Pakistan into Afghanistan during the election period, despite promises by Pakistani security officials that they would take steps to try and reduce that. I have a fear that in the second round that Taliban effort will be even more successful, and it will depress turnout in the east and south of the country in ways that will affect the election. Again, I’m not asking you to comment on that. That’s my observation.

My question is that – is that underlying a lot of the decisions that the president of the United States has made recently is the belief that in the long term, Afghanistan’s economy doesn’t have the capacity to support the necessary security forces, and a real pessimism about the future of the Afghan economy five or 10 years out.

So I’d appreciate very much your views of what kind of possibilities the Afghan economy might have for supporting its own security needs in the five- to 10-year period. Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: And since David did hit on the economy question, and you touched on it in your opening comment, perhaps as you do that you could deal with a question from Voice of America’s Spozhmai Maiwandi on job creation. And more generally, the economic cost of withdrawal is going to be huge. How – with 0 percent growth already, how do you manage that?

MR. GHANI: Right. Well, thank you both to Harlan and to David.

First, on the question of enablers, during the last three years the Operation Iron Mountain did provide a significant number of enablers for our ground forces. Part of the problem here is the human capability to operate some of these. For instance, armored vehicles that are specifically designed for Afghan terrain, that can avoid a lot of loss of life or can – require computer skills to drive these vehicles, and we’ve had difficulty in terms of those.

The area of enablers, where we must put emphasis and must put all our resources, are two. One is air force capability, particularly helicopters. In terms of helicopters, we have made progress. In terms of planes, there was a really bad procurement situation where a very large number of planes that were provided to us never flew.

Once the chief of staff of the Afghan army went to the airport, started 19 planes. I believe none could take off.

That’s part of the outsourcing of, you know, contractors – classic problems that I’ve described in my book. Harlan himself has written on this, and David has tried very valiantly to help. So we need this.

Second is medical evacuation. Medical evacuation is absolutely critical to the morale of our armed forces, and it’s really important that we have these enablers.

The bilateral security agreement has a provision that I suggested and it’s been agreed that with the yearly allocation can be revisited. So within the fixed amounts of planning the Pentagon has prepared, there can be reallocations. Those reallocations, particularly if we save from the cost of fuel and food and other resources, where significant savings, I think, can be realized, should enable us to tackle this question. But this, Harlan, is a very significant challenge, and we are going to require a lot of homework and a lot of actions, and we will take this up as a priority, upon assuming office, with the government of the United States. Secretary Hagel and his team, I hope, will be responding to us with the type of level of flexibility to allow us to meet this critical need, as the overwhelming request of the Afghan army – and I’ve visited every single corps command and have talked to all the officers across the board – is on these two areas.

There is the flow of the equipment, much better management in terms of those in making sure that now operation and maintenance takes forefront. We’ve been weak in terms of the very large infrastructure of support for our security forces that was created in the last 10 years. Now we need to shift to operation and maintenance to ensure, and the two-year framework will force us to do this and we will do it.

In terms of David’s observation, the pessimism arises from lack of progress since 2005-‘6 on the economy. The economy became a byproduct of ISAF presence. So I’ll just give you two illustrations. Normally, the transport sector is about 10 percent of even very expanding economies. In Afghanistan, it reached the point in 2013 of being about over 20 percent of the economy. But during 2013 and 2014, the transport sector has declined rapidly. A tractor that used to cost $50,000 now goes for 6 ½ thousand dollars (and ?) spare parts because the ISAF – each 10,000 ISAF troops meant a level of unemployment in thousands. The end of this – (pause).

MR. KEMPE: Yeah, the connection’s been doing pretty well, so we’ll see if we can get it back. (Pause.)

MR. GHANI: What do we do immediately?

MR. KEMPE: We’re back on. We got cut off –

MR. GHANI: (Inaudible) – immediately face the problem –

MR. KEMPE: We’re cut off, Ashraf. We’re coming right back to you, if you can hear me from any other means. (Pause.) I think we’re back with you again, if you can hear me.

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Yeah, we’re back with you again. We got off? Oh. No?

MR. NAWAZ (?): Well, he couldn’t hear us.


MR. KEMPE: Yeah, let’s just do audio for the last few minutes. Ashraf, can you hear us? (Pause.) Can you hear us, Ashraf? Can you hear us?

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Yes. Can you hear us? Can you hear us now? (Pause.)

Then let’s just do voice. Can you do that? (Pause.) Ashraf, can you hear us? Can you hear us? (Pause.) Ashraf. Oh, well. (Pause.) Ashraf, can you hear us? (Pause.)


MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Yes. Can you hear us? I know – can you hear us now? Can you hear us, Ashraf? Hello.

MR. GHANI: (Inaudible.)

MR. KEMPE: Can you hear us? (Pause.)

Let’s just try the way that it’s worked so far. Just hit the video call. (Pause.)

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Ashraf, can you hear us now? Can you hear us now? Ashraf, can you hear us?

Sorry. Agh. (Pause.) OK, answer with video, how’s that?

Ashraf, can you hear us?

MR. GHANI: I can hear you, yes.

MR. KEMPE: OK. Let’s – let’s go ahead. We’ve sort of run out of your time, but why don’t you finish that –

MR. GHANI: That economy question.

MR. KEMPE: Yeah, finish that answer, yeah, please.

MR. GHANI: The first thing that we would need is a consortium to be formed, on the second day of taking over, between the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, European Union, Scandinavian countries, DFID, to be able to put together at three months key package that would allow us to solve the immediate problems.

Then we have a conference in London, where, in November. In November – by November we will put together a growth strategy that answers the fundamental needs of creation of an economy in a land-locked country. The foundation of this is that Afghans have an estimated $42 billion in cash that today is not secure. Our key goal will be to attract at least 20 billion (dollars) of this in a secure environment to allow a compact between the Afghan private sector and public sector that would resemble the experience of South Korea in the 1960s, Singapore and Malaysia.

Next to this would be drawing on the experience of the New Deal to create a series of public-works program for immediate employment creation.

The third real driver here is creating direct foreign investment, and here we are looking at the Gulf countries and Central Asian countries in particular. The Gulf now, fortunately, is a huge source of capital. The agricultural strategy of the Gulf in terms of food security has changed. They are seeking 30 years framework of investment that they’ve done in Southern Sudan and other places to be able to transform the Afghan agriculture from an import-oriented sector to an export-oriented sector.

Our mining wealth is considerable. The key thing that is missing is a stable policy framework within which mining companies can engage with us. Transparent contracts regarding 13 mines will get us to meet our budget needs, both security and non-security, in 13 years. So management of these 13 mines would be critical point.

Now, the most significant driver, which brings us back to the region. Afghanistan and – Pakistan’s trade with India three years ago was around 1 billion (dollars) a year, less than its trade with Afghanistan. Shuja will tell you that during the last three years this is reached over 7 billion (dollars). But if you calculate the economic relationships of 1947, the prospect is up to $70 billion of trade.

India’s and China’s new growth can be harnessed for lifting both Afghanistan and Pakistan out of poverty. So again –


MR. KEMPE: Hello? Can you hear us? (Pause.) Sorry, Ashraf. I think we’ve –

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Yes. I think we’re down to the last of couple of minutes. You said by lifting –

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Lifting Afghanistan and Pakistan out of poverty. Can you hear us? No?

That’s a shame. (Pause.) Can you hear us now? Hello? Can you hear us? Hello? Hello? (Pause.) No? Hello?

When it comes back in from him, answer without video when it comes back in from him. (Pause.) Hello?

MR. GHANI: (Inaudible.)


MR. KEMPE: Can you us Ashraf? Can you hear us?

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Can you hear us now? No. Can you hear us?

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Yes, can you hear us?

(Technical discussion.)

MR. KEMPE: Hello, Ashraf? Ashraf? I just don’t want to be rude. I think we should cut it off, but we should – let’s – hello? Hello?

(Audio break.)

MR. KEMPE: – getting back connected to him. Let’s see; this may be it right now. Can you hear us now, Ashraf?

MR. GHANI: Hello?

MR. KEMPE: Can you hear us now? So I think – let’s see if we can get him internally here, but for those who are online, I was going to close by saluting the courage of the Afghanistan people, echoing David Sedney, because this really has been a remarkable historic achievement just that we’ve got this far, and the courage of the candidates and the Afghan people. And we’re wishing them all the best that we can possibly wish them through June 14th.

And we’re also going to wish Ashraf Ghani to come onto Google Hangout next time rather than Skype. But for you that are online, we’ll close with Ashraf as soon as we can get him online, but if you have to go onto other things, we understand that. We’ll be posting this conversation, I hope editing out the glitches. And we’ll also post a transcript as soon as we can get a transcript up as well. So you’ll be able to find that online at atlanticcouncil.org as soon as we can get it up. But thank you for joining us online. We’ll continue to try to reach Ashraf so we can thank him and he can finish his last answer, but we know some of you have to move on to other things so thank you again for joining us.

MR. NAWAZ: Can I just add a quick –

MR. KEMPE: Yeah.

MR. NAWAZ: – commercial break? The South Asia Center has a Google Hangout in another couple of minutes on the Indian elections and we’ll have Shashi Tharoor on. So if you are on Google, check for that and join us live.

MR. KEMPE: Great. Thank you, Shuja. And thanks so much to Shuja and the South Asia Center for organizing this. We will – and we are and we have already reached out to Dr. Abdullah.

(Technical discussion.)


Ashraf? Hello?


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