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 An Ariana Media Publication 02/29/2012
 Ghani Pledges to Back Karzai in Rebuilding Effort

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan

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Former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who challenged President Hamid Karzai in last year's election, stood with his former rival at a conference in London yesterday and pledged his support to help rebuild their country.

“I'm not serving in the government, but this is an issue of national interest,” Ghani said in an interview. “When it comes to national interest, Karzai and I are one. The election is over. He is the president. And I intend to do everything to make sure that he assumes the role of a statesman and not that of an outcast.”

Ghani called his decision this month to accept an invitation to present his ideas to Karzai an example of the importance of Afghans working together and with the international community for the country's advancement.

The move by Ghani was a boost for Karzai's strategy to reconcile political foes in Afghanistan, including members of the Taliban, and move the country from war toward stability as the U.S. expands its military involvement.

Ghani said hearing Karzai's second inaugural address in November and the pledges the president has made since to fight corruption, promote national reconciliation and take over from international security forces persuaded him that it was important to help.

“Mr. Karzai was on message, he was coherent, comprehensive and passionate and very balanced” in remarks yesterday calling for a loya jirga, or a tribal assembly, in a few weeks to which the president said anti-government militants should be invited.

Karzai's Priority

Karzai said “reconciliation” with the Taliban, including its leaders, should be a national priority. “We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers,” he said.

Ghani, 60, holds a doctorate from Columbia University in New York and worked for the World Bank in Washington. He has good relations with members of the Obama administration, including Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a separate interview, Holbrooke praised Ghani's ideas to fight corruption and his renewed cooperation with Karzai. Their cooperation is a significant sign of political “reconciliation” among elites, Holbrooke said.

Afghan government spokesmen couldn't be reached for comment.

Fraud Reports

Ghani, who isn't widely known in Afghan society, placed a distant fourth in the August election, according to official results. The vote was called into question by United Nations and European monitors because of extensive reports of vote fraud.

After Karzai's second-place challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of a planned run-off, the country's election commission declared Karzai the winner in November.

Ghani previously had rebuffed appeals by Karzai and U.S. officials to advise the Afghan government in a technical capacity. Ghani is a founder the Institute of State Effectiveness, a policy institute in Washington that studies and promotes institutional changes and clean government.

At the conference yesterday in London that drew officials from more than 60 nations, foreign governments including Japan and Germany pledged $140 million for the first year of an international trust fund to provide jobs, homes and agricultural assistance for Taliban fighters who return to civilian life.

Ghani said he was heartened that “Afghanistan is the top priority” for the international community, which had turned its attention to Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion there. “Now we have the attention of the world. It matters to everybody.”

Six-Point Plan

Ghani said he spent two weeks in Kabul earlier this month, during which Karzai and his advisers asked Ghani to present a six-point plan for fighting corruption during 12 hours of discussions over several days. Ghani said his proposal centers on discouraging graft related to rich natural resources, smuggling, subversion of import laws, land disputes, foreign contracting and narcotics.

After two decades in the U.S., Ghani first worked pro bono as an adviser to Karzai after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, before being appointed finance minister. He became disillusioned with the government and resigned in 2005. He had won praise for establishing a new currency, overhauling budgeting and customs, and promoting rural development through World Bank grants.

Ghani praised speeches at the London conference by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. and NATO war commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. President Barack Obama's decision to boost U.S. troops by 30,000, based on McChrystal's assessment of ground conditions, was “an incredibly good plan of action,” Ghani said.

“Now we need to get development and diplomacy to function on the same plane,” he said.

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