Ghani's trip to the US may have been hailed as a success by the foreign media, but it has failed to quell domestic criticism of his government's inertia back home. Despite signing a slate of new aid and military
The 20 years President Ashraf Ghani spent studying and working in the country may have given him a distinct advantage over his predecessor in recent negotiations with the United States. One way or another, Ghani's recent trip to the US was a charm offensive to establish better relations with Afghanistan's largest donor and the trip yielded several military support and aid pledges.
Following weeks of deliberations with his national security team, and the recent meeting with Afghan leaders in Washington, Obama announced in a joint press conference with Ghani that he would restrain plans to cut the 9,800 American troops currently stationed in Afghanistan by nearly 50 percent.
US pledges more military and civilian aid
The US administration also pledged an additional 800 million US dollars in aid money, a much needed boost for Afghanistan's stricken economy. The US pledged to fund a program to train an additional 20,000 Afghan military personnel through 2017 to quell the rising Taliban insurgency and to account for the high number of casualties and desertions within the Afghan National Army (ANA). The target peak level for 2017 is 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers.
The extension time for thousands of US troops could boost the morale of Afghan security forces, who will face Taliban insurgents - some of whom have claimed allegiance to Islamic State - for the first time without the direct support of foreign ground forces during the fighting season this spring, when the warmer weather tends to be followed by a Taliban show of force. Afghan officials however believe the extension of American forces will put the Afghan government in a position of strength as it pushes for peace talks with the Taliban.
No cabinet, few governors
Ghani has pledged to tackle corruption in Afghanistan. (Cartoon: Uzra Shamal. Main photo: Zafar Shah Rouyee)
Yet while Ghani was being praised in the US, critics at home asked how the extra military support would help when the president is yet to announce his candidate to head the crucial defense ministry. Only eight out of 25 ministerial posts have so far been filled in Afghanistan since Ghani was sworn-in as president on September 29, 2014. More than six months since the inauguration of the Unity Government, most of the cabinet posts are run by acting ministers, while dozens of high-profile positions in the country’s 34 province— including governorship posts— have yet to be filled.
The delays in appointments are widely seen by Afghans as a lack of unison between Ghani and Abdullah, despite the two forming a power-sharing Unity Government after months of political impasse caused by allegations of massive fraud in the second round of the elections. In an apparent move to quell criticism regarding his incomplete cabinet, President Ghani announced 16 new names one day before he embarked on his trip to Washington. The new nominees are to yet be approved by the lower house of parliament, the body that rejected two-thirds of his cabinet choices in January.
Since taking office last September President Ghani has made peace talks with the Taliban one of the top priorities of his government, rolling out a complex strategy to force Taliban insurgents to come to the negotiating table. He has traveled to regional countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates to put pressure on Pakistan to end its support for the Taliban and to force the Taliban leadership, which is based in Pakistan, to kick start peace talks with Kabul. Afghan officials familiar with recent meetings that took place behind closed doors in Camp David, the White House and elsewhere, said that negotiations with insurgents was one of the subjects dominating conversations between Afghan and American leaders.
The US' renewed interest could be in response to Ghani's public call for more military support in light of Islamic State's presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent reception in Washington, Ghani's appearance was a rare instance in which the Republican and Democratic parties managed to agree. Now comes the hard work for Afghanistan's president. He has promised to fight endemic corruption within the Afghan political system and has talked of self-reliance.
Taliban denounce increase of US troops
The president's current strategy of relying on an extension of thousands of US troops until end of this year could create a new obstacle in the peace process, as the Taliban have repeatedly conditioned cessation of war on the departure of all foreign forces from the country. The Taliban denounced Obama’s new troop plans and vowed to continue their war against the Kabul regime.
Just a day after a joint press conference by Ghani and Obama, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden vehicle in the heart of Kabul city, killing seven and inuring more than 30 others.