April 11, 2021 9:59:14 am
Written by Adam Nossiter
He attends international conferences, meets with diplomats, recently inaugurated a dam and delivers patriotic speeches vowing to defend his country against the Taliban.
But how much control President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has over his imperiled country’s future and his own has become a matter of debate among politicians, analysts and citizens. Or rather, the question has been largely resolved: not much.
From most vantage points, Ghani — well qualified for his job and deeply credentialed, with Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, Columbia, the World Bank and the United Nations in his background — is thoroughly isolated. A serious author with a first-class intellect, he is dependent on the counsel of a handful; unwilling to even watch television news, those who know him say; and losing allies fast.
That spells trouble for a country where a hard-line Islamist insurgency has the upper hand militarily; where nearly half the population faces hunger at crisis levels, according to the United Nations; where the overwhelming balance of government money comes from abroad; and where weak governance and widespread corruption are endemic.
Meanwhile, the Americans are preparing to pull out their last remaining troops, a prospect expected to lead to the medium-term collapse of the Afghan forces they now support.
“He is in a desperate situation,” said Rahmatullah Nabil, a former head of the country’s intelligence services. “We’re getting weaker. Security is weak, everything is getting weaker, and the Taliban are taking advantage.”
The United States has steadily distanced itself from Ghani, 71, and has frequently worked around him to deal with the Taliban and regional power brokers. Afghan warlords, potent centers of alternative power, openly condemn or flout him. The country’s Parliament twice rejected his budget and distrusts him. And the Taliban refuse to entertain the idea of a deal with him.
American officials have mostly lost patience with him. Many are fed up with what they see as his obstinacy in refusing to make concessions to adversaries, or his condescending style. “Dead man walking” is the term some civil society members use to describe his political standing.
“As an Afghan, a sense of humiliation comes over you,” said Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the head of an Afghan think tank and a cousin of the former president, Hamid Karzai. “But I also feel Ghani deserves it,” Karzai said. “He’s dealing with the kiss of death from his own closest partner.”
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