Taliban gain militarily, Afghan President Ghani losing allies: Report
The report said that Ghani was performing his presidential functions, how much control he has over his imperiled country’s future and his own has become a matter of debate among politicians, analysts and citizens
NEW YORK: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is “thoroughly isolated” as his power is undermined leaving him with few remaining allies while the Taliban gain militarily across Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Saturday.
“From most vantage points, Mr. 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, the newspaper said in a report from Kabul.
The report said that Ghani was performing his presidential functions, how much control he has over his imperiled country’s future and his own has become a matter of debate among politicians, analysts and citizens.
“A serious author with a first-class intellect, he (President Ghani) is dependent on the counsel of a handful, unwilling to even watch television news, those who know him say, and losing allies fast,” Times’ correspondent Adam Nossiter wrote.
“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.”
Pointing out that the Americans are preparing to pull out their last remaining troops, the report said that prospect was expected to lead to the medium-term collapse of the Afghan forces they now support.
“He is in a desperate situation,” Rahmatullah Nabil, a former head of the country’s intelligence services, was quoted as saying. “We’re getting weaker. Security is weak, everything is getting weaker, and the Taliban are taking advantage.”
The United States, according to the report, has steadily distanced itself from Ghani, saying Washington has in fact frequently worked around him to deal with the Taliban and regional power brokers, while Afghan warlords, potent centers of alternative power, openly condemn or flout him.
The country’s Parliament twice rejected his budget and distrusts Ghani, and his principal adversaries, the Taliban, refuse to entertain the idea of a deal with him. His mandate, weak from the outset — voter turnout was around 18.7 percent in his sharply contested 2019 victory, according to Afghanistan’ Independent Election Commission — appears to have shrunk, it said.
“American officials have mostly lost patience with him,” correspondent Nossiter said, adding that 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, the report said.
A recent letter to him from Secretary of State Antony Blinken was so harsh that even Afghans critical of Ghani found it insulting.
In language more likely to be used with an unruly schoolboy than a head of state, the letter repeated the phrase “I urge you” three times. “I must also make clear to you, Mr. President,” Blinken continued, “that as our policy process continues in Washington, the United States has not ruled out any option.”
“The unspoken subtext was clear: Your influence is minimal,” the report said.
“As an Afghan, a sense of humiliation comes over you,” Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the head of an Afghan think tank and a cousin of the former president, Hamid Karzai, was quoted as saying in the report. “But I also feel Ghani deserves it,” Karzai said. “He’s dealing with the kiss of death from his own closest partner.”
The Biden administration, it said, is banking on multinational talks, tentatively set for later this month in Istanbul, to establish a plan for moving forward. At the heart of the U.S. proposal is a temporary government to hold power until elections can be held.
In this interim body, the Taliban and the current government would share power, according to a leaked draft. Such a setup could require Ghani to step down, a move he has repeatedly refused to consider.
Ghani has come up with a counterproposal that he plans to release soon, which calls for a cease-fire, a temporary “government of peace” whose potential makeup remains unclear, and then early elections in which he promises not to run.
“Both the American plan and Mr. Ghani’s could be non-starters, as the Taliban have never said they would agree to elections, nor have they indicated that they would go along with any sort of government plan or be content with power-sharing,” correspondent Nossiter wrote.
“From what we’re seeing, they want absolute power, and they are waiting to take power by force,” Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, said in an interview with the Times.
“While Mr. Ghani is steadily losing political capital in Kabul and with international partners, the country’s military position is deteriorating,” according to the report, adding that each day brings news of security force members blown up or gunned down.
“They can’t keep doing that,” a senior Western diplomat in Kabul said, commenting on the steady attrition. “The toll on the government, and the credibility and legitimacy it has, it’s not sustainable.”