Hashmat Ghani: Quiet storm of the Afghan vote

Presidential hopeful has concrete policy plans but his campaign could be haunted by rifts with his elder brother.

Hashmat Ghani has served as the leader of Afghanistan's two million-strong nomad population [Sulyman Qardash/Al Jazeera]

Kabul, Afghanistan – In person, Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai is intimidating yet warm; gruff words and booming laughter can be heard echoing off the walls of his sprawling west Kabul property.

Amid the multi-coloured Pakistani-style “poppy palaces” that have come to dot the Afghan capital, Ghani’s 23,000 square foot home stands out not only for its mix of traditional Afghan and California-style architecture, but also for its open door policy.

As Grand Council Chieftain of the Kuchis, his current post is not a political one. But as the leader of two million nomadic people he has faced complex issues of land rights, ethnicity and tradition that he believes have prepared him for the highest political office in the land.

He announced his candidacy for president of Afghanistan on Saturday ahead of national elections in April.

Ghani contends that, unlike his political rivals, he has a fully developed plan for the nation.

“I don’t think I’m looking at [the election] as a competition. I’m looking at it with a full-fledged agenda for every segment of society,” he told Al Jazeera.

The open door

For the last 12 years, the 54-year-old tribal chief said a majority of Afghan politicians have kept a “closed door policy”, furthering the gap between the people and the state.

“Unfortunately, the Afghan government in the name of security has created a pariah government [where] no one is accessible,” he said of the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In contrast, on any given day, Ghani’s guests range from long-time friends also vying for the presidency to butchers and youth activists. He hopes this ability to connect with different sectors of society will be a selling point for his campaign.

One of the main points of his agenda is a plan for making use of under-utilised government land to ease overpopulation in urban areas.

In the last few years, Ghani has traveled across the nation’s 34 provinces. Too large of a burden has been placed on Afghanistan’s major urban centres – Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar, he said.

To fight urban overpopulation, which unless addressed will continue for another 20 years, Ghani said the government must begin to look towards more development and better planning in rural districts.

In place of aid, Ghani wants other countries to look at the money they spend in Afghanistan as investments, especially in resources sector.

“In Kabul alone, there are 16 marble mines. China is running out of marble. We have colours you can’t even find in Italy,” Ghani says of one example of the three trillion dollar value placed on the nation’s 1,400 under-exploited mineral fields.

Sibling rivalry

Though he is hoping they will serve as prime assets, Ghani’s connections, both personal and political, can also be seen as detriments.

His admitted closeness to many of the potential presidential and vice presidential candidates, several of whom have been accused of corruption and human rights abuses, could put Ghani in dangerous proximity to figures that many in Afghanistan’s majority youth population have grown weary of.

However, in today’s political climate, Ghani said prosecuting of controversial figures of the three-decade-long conflict would do little good.

In the past two brothers would kill each other, now they have a way to present two different visions.

by Hashmat Ghani, Afghan presidential candidate

Saying the last 12 years have shown “justice is for sale” in Afghanistan, Ghani said prosecution would only further agitate wartime leaders already fearing trial.

Given the current state of the Afghan justice system, Ghani said these powerful figures would use their money and influence to continue the state of impunity.

“At this stage this country is incapable of prosecution or the delivery of proper justice.”

Instead, he believes the focus of the nation should be on strengthening communities and finding outlets for the 365,000 people currently earning an income from international NGOs and military contracts likely to dry up after foreign troops withdrawal.

On a personal level, the parallel presidential bid of his older brother, Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister and chairman of the Transition Coordination Commission, the body tasked with facilitating the transition to Afghan-led security, is likely to raise eyebrows.

Locals in Logar, the province the brothers hail from, have already begun to question the implications of the dueling campaigns.

“If two brothers can’t resolve disputes amongst themselves, how will they resolve the disputes of a nation?” several Logar residents told Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity.

Hashmat said Afghans posing such questions have taken a cynical stance to what shows democratic diversity.

“In the past two brothers would kill each other, now they have a way to present two different visions.”

In a jab at his rival, Hashmat said Afghans are unprepared for the complex “world vision” his “world scholar” elder brother would present.

Political transition

As for the man he hopes to replace, Ghani said for a proper power transition, Hamid Karzai must keep an initial low profile.

Beyond that, he sees few political prospects for Karzai. The people, he said, have moved on from a government that “might not have killed people, but has abused power [and] ruined an enormous amount of resources.”

These practices, he said, are driving young people to join the Taliban.
The kind of transparent, inclusive government he hopes to form would reduce the armed opposition.

The impending withdrawal of foreign forces and investment means the state has only a small window to get its act together, he said.

“The Afghan government has been very lucky because there was a parallel government and people realised that. They realised that the aid was coming in from various channels; contracts were coming in from various channels.”This created a situation where people relied directly upon the government for very little.

But for the first time in decades, Afghans will find themselves having no one to turn to other than the leaders they voted for.

What remains to be seen is whether the people can accept a leader who has built his political aspirations upon personal connections with all segments of society but considers his most personal relationship politically irrelevant.

Source: Al Jazeera