President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan was considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in the art of fixing failed states before he became the country’s president. In office since 2014, he is confronted by a large number of intertwined political, security and economic problems. His Afghan government is troubled by a low level of revenue collection, a high level of corruption and a dismal job creation record. The country’s overall literacy rate is about 38%. Afghanistan is a poor country, it has a per capita GDP of $2,000. The Taliban movement is resurgent. It is a severe challenge to the government’s control of territory, economic development and the population’s security.
The political situation is dreary. Ghani’s vice president is a former militia leader with a brutal reputation. Instead of helping to unite the ethnically diverse population, he is heading an ethnic coalition opposed to Ghani’s policies. His coalition wants Ghani to give up power to officials and ministers from the various parties and ethnic groups. The coalition has accused President Ghani of concentrating power in a few agencies and individuals. The issue, as the coalition sees it, is that President Ghani does not want share power and that he only trusts a select few of his closest aides. Some cynical analysts believe that Ghani’s drive to reduce corruption may have something do with the coalition’s goal. Many of the former warlords are afraid of being cut off from the system of patronage that made them wealthy. There is a high degree of anxiety among the more traditional leaders, those who may lose some power in a modernizing state.
President Ghani’s relationship with Abdullah Abdullah, who is serving in the newly created position of chief executive in the national unity government, is problematic. This arrangement was the result of the power-sharing deal that was hammered out between the two bitter political rivals and the United States in 2014. In Afghanistan, foreign donors are paying for 70% of the national budget, unemployment is in the 35% to 40% range, street crime and insurgent attacks are on the increase. More than 11,000 civilians were killed or injured in war-related incidents last year.
As time passes, President Ghani’s government is being blamed for failing to create jobs, curb corruption, poor security conditions and the slow development of democratic institutions. President Ghani appears to have seriously underestimated the short-term problems, political costs and the time it takes for programs to show results. Building democratic institutions and reforming a corrupt political system have proved to be extremely difficult tasks. Parliamentary elections are long overdue. President Ghani will remain in office for two more years if he can survive his growing unpopularity. International donors spent approximately $80 billion in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2016. They have pledged to provide $3.8 billion during the 2017 to 2020 period. Since implementing reforms takes time, Afghanistan will be dependent on outside help for at least several more years.
The number of U.S. and NATO troops peaked at 140,000 in 2009. As American involvement declined, the withdrawal of trainers and advisors impacted the Afghans’ ability to take over combat roles. Afghan politics also played a part, President Ghani is replacing the politically selected senior commanders with ones that have proven themselves on the battlefield. The Afghan government faces an expanding conflict as the Taliban and other insurgent groups continue to launch attacks. The Afghan security forces currently suffer from a deficiency of air power, artillery, logistics and medical services. There are now about 8,400 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, they will be augmented by approximately 4,000 additional troops during the coming months. The goal is to train and support the 350,000 personnel of the Afghan army and police so that they will be able to neutralize and control the forces of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State.
The Taliban and other antigovernment groups continue to profit from the opium trade, Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium. Iran and Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighboring states, have not helped stabilize the country because they have their own political agendas. After 16 years of American involvement, Afghanistan remains a highly complex mass of security, economic and political difficulties.