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Jun 08, 2009
Afghan presidential hopeful offers a new way
Academic, economist and leading presidential hopefulbelieves he has the formula to deliver from its mire of insurgency, poverty and despair.
It includes a 20-year development plan that will boost the economy and keep young men away from weapons and violence, the determined 60-year-old told AFP in an interview.
"In two years, my goal would be that 60 percent of the population will be saying that things are going in the right direction," Ghani said confidently.
The wiry intellectual is emerging as's toughest rival for the August 20 elections, the second-ever presidential vote in a country crushed by war and amongst the poorest in the world.
As president, Ghani would demand more emphasis on a counter-insurgency strategy against Taliban and other extremists instead of a counter-terrorism one.
"Counter-terror is predominantly about use of violence. Counter-insurgency is about persuading the population that an order has been created that is going to protect them," he said.
This is done 20 percent through the use of force and 80 percent through politics and development, said the former, who has a doctorate from New York's Columbia University.
It is a strategy he said has only now been "rediscovered" by the United States, which led the invasion to topple the Taliban in 2001 and has maintained thousands of troops here in a costly operation to root out extremists.
Despite the US effort, the insurgency has intensified since 2005, reaching its deadliest last year and prompting US President Barack Obama to pledge more troops while also ramping up a civilian development effort.
Ghani said unemployment was a "critical driver of the insurgency".
He used an example from a survey conducted three years ago: "I asked the Afghan civil society organisers within the survey one question -- how do you define a Talib?
"And without a moment's hesitation, they said, 'An unemployed youth'."
Improving the economy is a challenge the 2002-2004 finance minister said he has spent a lot of time thinking about.
"I'll divide Afghanistan into seven economic zones. In the first year, I'll focus on turning eight provinces into model provinces and we'll follow on that track," he said.
His vision includes "one million dwelling units, one million jobs, 10,000 megawatts of electricity, the opening up of Central Afghanistan, an agriculture where we raise our income per capita from one dollar a day to four dollars a day."
Where will the money come from? Finance ministry data indicates 70 percent of the country's revenue is lost through mismanagement and corruption, he said.
"This country is flooded with money. You go to every single province of this country -- tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.
"But this money has not been translated into capital because the enabling conditions are not there."
For example, if an investor wants to build a factory, the expense of a bribe, land and labour would drive his costs through the roof and turn him away, he said.
Ghani is critical of Karzai, as would be expected of a rival.
He accuses the man who has been in charge since 2001 of failing to curb corruption or injustice and describes his grasp of national issues as "laughable".
"The president has not shown any capacity to lead on a single issue," he said.
Ghani is not intimidated by Karzai's team, which includes ethnic Tajik and Hazara leaders -- both former warlords -- to add to his Pashtun pull. Uzbek strongman, General Abdul Rashid Dostam, has also declared for the incumbent.
"The team the president has reassembled is a pre-Taliban team. Isn't that striking?" Ghani asked, referring to men who were factional commanders during the Soviet resistance and civil war of the 1990s.
Ghani, a Pashtun, has also picked Tajik and Hazara running mates but they have almost no profile.
"Of course they are not very well-known because they have not committed crimes against humanity."
The presidential hopeful charges that Karzai's choice has made it clear to the "new Afghans" -- those without a history of conflict -- that they do not have a place.
"I feel that I have got a moral obligation to run. This is a government of corruption,, continued violence, waste of public resources.
"It's a government that has deeply disappointed the hopes and the aspirations of our people," he said.
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