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Ashraf Ghani clamping down on poor quality officials

March 4, 2015

Summary: The Afghan President continues a purge against poor quality officials.  He should be careful to avoid being too enthusiastic, for fear of causing more chaos and resentment than he resolves.  A pragmatic and slower approach might be more rewarding in the long-term…

Good news for Afghanistan

Good news for Afghanistan

I see that Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, is continuing his purge against Afghan officials and commmanders who he judges incompetent, corrupt, resistant to change or permutations of all three.

BBC News, 2 March 2015: Twenty-seven senior Afghan police officers have been sacked as part of what the government calls a drive towards good governance.  The move involves 17 district police chiefs in the capital Kabul, along with officers involved in counter-narcotics.  The changes were ordered by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has said many officers had links to warlords.  Since taking office last September, Mr Ghani has repeatedly sacked officials accused of corruption.  Recently he sacked dozens of officials just hours into a snap inspection.

He has already undertaken several such “clear-outs” across the country since coming to office last year:

The Guardian, 1 December 2014: Facing an intensified Taliban insurgency, the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, plans to fire senior civilian and military leaders in the country’s most volatile provinces to reinvigorate the battle against militants, officials have said.

Already, Kabul police chief General Mohammad Zahir has resigned following a string of attacks in the capital over three days that killed four foreigners — including an employee of the British embassy — and several Afghan civilians. Officials and diplomats say Ghani will next remove governors and generals in five provinces where the Taliban have held territory for years.

It remains an encouraging indicator that Mr Ghani – intelligent, progressive, Western-leaning and financially astute – proceeds apace with reforms and change.  The Karzai era preserved much that was wrong with Afghanistan.  Institutionalised nepotism, corruption and incompetence was holding the country back.  Many Ministers and officials held their posts because they were good “Jihadis” who had bravely fought the Soviets and/or the Taliban.   The sense of “entitlement” has dragged the country down.

But I have a slight concern that implementing too much radical change in a short time frame might be counter-productive and provoke a backlash.  Powerful regional players – warlords – do not take kindly to the niceties of Western-style interpretations of competence and capability.  Positions in national and local government, rightly or wrongly, are seen as important indications of individual and ethnic status.  Removal from said positions, without public reward or compensation is humiliating.

Shaun Snow, in The Diplomat, puts it well:

The Diplomat, 13 Jan 2015: Ghani has sworn to elect individuals based on merit and not tribal and clan affiliation, a promise he made to rid the Afghan government of its corrupt patronage system, a system that pits the various ethnic groups and tribes against each other and undermines the legitimacy and credibility of the government. Whether this is a feasible goal is still unclear. Ghani may have to learn to be a pragmatic politician instead of the all-knowing professor…Ghani will also have to balance the needs and worries of various provincial governors throughout the country, including Attah Mohammed Noor, the powerful governor of Balkh province who threatened an uprising against Ghani over the summer election, and who is a strong supporter of Abdullah…Ashraf Ghani will have to learn to balance the tiny fiefdoms in Afghanistan and become a pragmatic politician, a skill mastered by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. His fight to end corruption will not come with one mighty blow, but with a series of small steps…A meritocracy may someday come to Afghanistan but not under the current administration. For now, security and stability should be the priority.

There are many ethnic, political and security groupings to placate and keep onside.  Furthermore, finding officials with the high standards of ability that modern governance demands will be tricky – not much point in sacking people if you cannnot replace them.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2015 3:00 am

    “…not much point in sacking people if you cannot replace them.” Excellent and critical point, Tim. I wonder if there is any kind of training/education program in place or contemplated to create competent (and reasonably ethical by local standards) bureaucrats and agency executives.

  2. March 9, 2015 10:21 am

    Hi Ron. I am not very clear on Afg government training for civil servants but the same problems in government – nepotism, corruption and inability still seem to persist. I do remember one idea I pushed forwards in around 2008 whereby the international community produced a “surge” of civil servant training instead of soldiers. Take and prepare whole groups of promising Afghans for administrative duties. If sending them to Europe doesn’t quite fit, then perhaps this might be a moderately neutral way of getting Iran, Pakistan and India (even China?) to provide training and resources. Where did I put that paper…?!

    • March 9, 2015 10:48 am

      In the 30 days I was there (early June to early July, 2005) I found the Afghan hospital people I met hungry for knowledge about how we get things done in the West. Whether training and education in modern management methods can ‘take’ in the current atmosphere, is questionable. The will to learn and change and grow needs to come form the very top, or the effort at lower levels will eventually come to frustration and failure. I’m tempted to say I’m available for consultation, but I am now 78, albeit in quite good health.

  3. March 9, 2015 11:23 am

    I wonder whether the enthusiasm for Western methods might have dwindled a little, now, ten years on, given the multiple problems caused by/remaining though Western involvement. “Modern” methods, as you suggest, are likely to be a problem in itself. But get yourself out there!

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