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There’s a lot riding on the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan.

"What’s at stake is really success or failure in Afghanistan," said defense analyst Daniel Goure.

Without a credible and effective government, Afghanistan runs the risk of becoming a "continually failed state," said Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank based in Washington.

While the list of candidates is not yet known, two people mentioned in media reports as possible contenders are Ali Ahmad Jalali and Ashraf Ghani, both former members of the Afghan government.

Both men say the government of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has failed.

"The people are very frustrated in Afghanistan today," Jalali said. "The government has lost its legitimacy because of this corruption and lack of capacity to deliver."

Security, corruption, agriculture and infrastructure will be top issues, said Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister and now on the faculty at the National Defense University.

He said the rampant corruption in Afghanistan is a reflection of the absence of rule of law in that country as well as "the weakness of the leadership" there.

"The lack of sufficient troops and the slow development of Afghanistan state institutions, which were totally destroyed, created a vacuum," he said. "That vacuum was filled, particularly after 2005, by regrouped Taliban, who were just across the border and also criminal networks."

Afghans felt that their government and the international community had failed them, and with the deterioration of security, Afghans turned to illegal activities to survive, Jalali said.

Afghanistan desperately needs investment in agriculture as well as infrastructure to combat the poppy problem and reduce poverty, he said.

Some farmers he talked to can earn $5,000 per month to grow one hectare of poppies but only between $500 and $600 for one hectare of wheat — and that won’t even cover the cost of fueling their irrigation pump.

Other farmers he has spoken with cannot get their produce to market due to the high cost of transportation, bad security and bad roads.

"Roads, electricity and water — that could become an engine of development in fighting poverty," Jalali said.

The Karzai’ government’s inability to deliver security and basic services to its people has cost it its legitimacy, he said.

"Karzai, as I know him for a long time, he is a decent person; he is a good man," Jalali said.

"He is honest in his efforts, but he is not a good team builder. I think he had a good team in 2002, 2003, 2004, but he failed to maintain them and to bring good people to the government."

While Jalali has not decided whether to run in Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election, he says he has been under pressure to throw his hat into the ring.

"It is surprising to see that in all provinces of Afghanistan, the young people and others spontaneously created networks to campaign for me — I don’t know it, and I later found out about it.

"So, in media, in tribal areas, in cities, and universities, they are calling on me, and it has reached a point where I cannot say outrightly no, but I have to weigh my options very soon and make a decision," Jalali said.

He said he will make a decision on whether or not to run in March or April.

Ashraf Ghani, who served as Afghanistan’s finance minister from 2002 to 2004, said he does not plan to run for office right now, but that could change if things get worse in Afghanistan.

"The more difficult it is, the closer it’s going to get me to a positive decision," Ghani said. "Politics is a vocation; it’s moral responsibility. When things become very difficult, I need to be there. That’s why I went back after 24 years, after 9/11."

While Ghani plans on staying outside the government for now, he is pushing for reforms by publishing a book and touring Afghanistan.

"If the people do not side with the government and the international community, that means there is something wrong, and today we have not convinced the Afghan public of the effectiveness of the enterprise," he said.

Ghani calls for overhauling international aid to Afghanistan, adding that the Afghans themselves hear of billions of dollars in aid coming to help them, but they don’t see much as a result.

For example, the international community has given the Afghan government more than $2 billion in technical assistance that has gone to waste due to political corruption, he said.

He advocated using that money instead for establishing five universities in Afghanistan, which he said would help thousands of Afghans.

To boost Afghan agriculture, Ghani believes NATO should adopt a policy of buying Afghan produce.

He is also calling for a series small and medium of hydroelectric power projects to provide electricity for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Forty percent of the villages on my count could be provided with power through micro-hydro in two years, and that would transform their lives," Ghani said.

On the security front, Ghani called the expected deployment of extra U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces, especially the Afghan police.

While the threat from Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan will persist for some years, Afghanistan and the international community can marginalize the insurgents by strengthening Afghan government institutions, Ghani said.

"When we’ve won 80 percent of the population to the cause of good governance, justice, fairness, economic opportunity and rule of law, we will be able to isolate [insurgents]," he said.

The changes Ghani have proposed require new leadership, he said.

"It’s not a question of an inherently unreceptive environment; it’s individuals and their choices," Ghani said.

Those individuals include President Karzai, he said.

"As the elected leader of the county … it was his to lose because he was legitimately elected, he had enormous public support, and the public looked to him for inspiration, vision, management and vision, and today, by in large, the public is disappointed," Ghani said.


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