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Ghani government: Two months in

Zafar Shah Rouyee
Rising security concerns and a delay in Cabinet appointments overshadow President Ashraf Ghani's presidency after his first 60 days in office.
1.12.2014  |  Kabul

If decrees and staffing shakeups occupied President Ashraf Ghani during his first month in office, his second month was marked by efforts to address mounting security and corruption issues.

President Ashraf Ghani visited the victims of a Nov. 23 suicide bombing in Paktika province. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the President)

In a move broadly seen as an effort to reform the culture of clan politics that defined Afghanistan’s power structures under Hamid Karzai’s presidency, the presidential office sent a letter to government institutions requesting them to address the president as “Muhammad Ashraf Ghani” in all official and diplomatic correspondence. By dropping his Pashtun surname Ahmadzai, Ghani effectively chose to portray himself as the representative of the whole nation rather than one specific tribe.

Surprise visits to state-run institutions have kept Kabul’s prison and hospital staff on their toes since Ghani’s inauguration. Unlike Karzai, who announced all his official visits ahead of time, Ghani made an unexpected drop-in to Kabul Detention Facility in early November, promising rehabilitation for wrongfully imprisoned inmates. “I cannot stand the fact that my countrymen and countrywomen get jailed for the mistakes of police, prosecutors or judges,” he said.

In another symbolic move, Ghani met with Jens Stoltenberg, the new Secretary General of NATO in Kabul, and announced that Afghan security forces will have a monopoly on the use force as of 2015. “It does not mean that our partnership [with international forces] ends there,” he added. “Actually, it is the beginning of a new era.”

Kabul Bank case

Following Ghani’s crackdown on the main actors of the Kabul Bank corruption scandal, the Provincial Appeals Court of Kabul froze the defendants’ assets Nov. 11, tripled the prison sentences of the financial institution’s former managers and ordered them to pay back their shares of the embezzled $935 million.

On Nov. 25, Abdul Baseer Azizi, the Spokesman for the Attorney General of Afghanistan, said that the Supreme Court of Afghanistan will make the final decision on this case.

Security issues

In his first official trip to Pakistan Nov. 14, President Ashraf Ghani visited the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi and met with General Raheel Shareef behind closed doors. The meeting met with criticism in the Afghan press.

Ghani also met with Mowlana Fazul Rahman, the leader of Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Pakistan Party and a major Taliban supporter, who said the war in Afghanistan will continue as long as foreign forces remain in the country.

Pakistani government officials pledged to assist Ghani in negotiating peace with the Taliban. However, just days after Ghani’s trip, Sartaj Aziz made the controversial claim that Pakistan should only fight Taliban operatives who pose a threat to Pakistan. Aziz later retracted his statements to the BBC’s Urdu-language service, explaining they were not meant to discourage the Pakistan Army from targeting the Afghan Taliban. Ghani’s office cited a follow-up conversation with Pakistan’s national security advisor, who said Pakistan would fight all Taliban operatives with no distinction.

Terrorist attacks, especially in Kabul city, have escalated since Ghani’s visit to Pakistan. One Nov. 16 attack killed two civilians and injured 32 others, including MP Shukria Barekzai. In another terrorist attack, two NATO soldiers were killed. A day later, seven Afghan Army soldiers died in an IED explosion.

A shocking suicide attack during a volleyball match in Paktika province Nov. 23 killed at least 50 civilians and injured around 60 others. The surviving victims were transported to Kabul. High-ranking government officials, including the President visited them at the hospital.

On Nov. 27, terrorists targeted a vehicle carrying employees of the British Embassy. Five people were killed and 34 people were injured in the attack.

Cabinet conundrum

Ghani has come under criticism for failing to introduce a new cabinet, which is now over two weeks past deadline. The main reasons for the delay are ongoing disagreements over the division of ministries between Ghani and his former election rival Abdullah Abdullah, who holds the newly created post of chief executive officer.

In his first days in office, President Ashraf Ghani ordered all ministers, governors and police chiefs to remain at their posts until further notice. Under Afghan law, an interim official cannot run a state institution for more than two months.

“Under the Constitution of Afghanistan, the time for interim leadership is over and the current cabinet is completely illegal,” Lower House Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi said Nov. 26. “The President has to introduce a new cabinet as soon as possible.”