Kojo speaks with "Speak No Evil" novelist and D.C. native Uzodinma Iweala about his second novel and how his local upbringing affects his storytelling.
Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner of Afghanistan’s contested months-long presidential election process. Ghani agreed to share power with his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who will become the country’s chief executive. Many Afghans are cautiously optimistic about the power-sharing deal, while the Obama administration is hopeful for a security agreement allowing American troops to remain in the country.
- Ali Latifi Afghanistan Correspondent, L.A. Times
- Andrew Wilder Vice President, South and Central Asia Programs, United States Institute of Peace
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Art of Food writing, from literature to cookbooks. But first, Afghan's first went to the polls back in April. Now, after a long and bitterly contested election, the U.S. has helped negotiate an unusual power sharing deal. The winner, Ashraf Ghani will become the country's new president.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd second place finisher, Abdullah Abdullah, will become chief executive. U.S. officials hope, that after years of chilly relations with current President, Hamid Karzai, there might be hope for better cooperation. Joining us to discuss this, in studio, is Andrew Wilder, vice president of South and Central Asia Programs at the United States Institute of Peace. Andrew Wilder, good to see you again.
MR. ANDREW WILDERThanks Kojo. It's good to be back on the show.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, do you think the U.S. should continue to support the Afghan government, the Afghan army, gives us a call at 800-433-8850? Andrew, Afghan's first went to the polls back in April. Can you remind us of why this was such a drawn out process and how we got here?
WILDERWell, I was actually in Kabul for the April round, the first round of the election and I have to say, it was quite an inspiring time to be there. The turnout was much higher than many of us had expected, which was a real blow to the Taliban, who had tried to prevent voters from going. But then, we went into the second round, on June 14, and then the stakes became much higher because it was basically, who's gonna end up as president? And it was basically, the round was between Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani.
WILDERThere was widespread allegations of fraud in the election and that proved controversial. The initial result suggested that Dr. Ashraf Ghani won, when in the first -- and Dr. Abdullah came in with about 44 percent of the vote and Ashraf Ghani with 56 percent which was quite a reversal from the first round where Abdullah Abdullah did well. And I think that provoked a lot of concerns about who was the legitimate winner and allegations of fraud. And that led into a long, exhaustive audit process for all the -- a 100 percent of the balance were then audited.
WILDERAt the same time, a long complicated political deal making process was ongoing and that's where President -- Secretary Kerry came in and got involved, paid two visits to Kabul, ended up doing about 27 phone calls to the two candidates, President Obama ended up doing 13 phone calls to the two presidents to try to broker this deal, leading to a government of national unity.
WILDERAnd trying to decide what -- who would have what powers in that government proved to be a long protracted and controversial discussion that was finally resolved on the weekend.
NNAMDIIn a power-sharing deal. Can you explain that power-sharing deal?
WILDERWell, basically, the end result is that, President Ghani has ended up with the most votes and he'll be the president but this new position of chief executive officer has been created with considerable powers. And, I think, this is where the devil is gonna be in the details. It's essentially meant to be a fairly equal, co-share, you know, co-sharing of power, but ultimately Ghani is the -- gonna be the president and has, I think, final say. But each issue of appointment and who's gonna -- and the powers of patronage and who's gonna end up in what key position is gonna be a source of tremendous, I think, internal debate and discussion.
WILDERSo while I think Afghan's are relieved that we end up having a result and, you know, I think, hopefully the first peaceful and democratic transition of power in Afghanistan is history, next week, when President-elect Ghani is inaugurated. Many are worried that this interim, this -- sorry, unity government is gonna be -- breakdown and not last too long because of all these internal squabbles that are nearly, inevitably gonna result.
NNAMDII suspect that the one issue that was as baffling to Americans as it was to many Afghan's is the fact that the results in this race were so contested that officials did not announce the final tally's. How legitimate was this election?
WILDERWell, my own personal view, I think, it was unfortunate that the final results weren't announced. Basically, the election commission was pressured into, ultimately, just announcing the outcome of the election, which was that President Ghani had won. But they did not announce the detailed results of what those percentages were. And that was -- due to the strong, you know, pressures from the Abdullah camp, that they would not sign onto the deal because they did not want to give legitimacy to the final results.
WILDERAnd ultimately that pressure led to a decision that, at least, in the short term, the results wouldn't be announced, but in the -- but I think, eventually, they will be. They've already been leaked to the press.
NNAMDIJoining us now, by phone, from Kabul is Ali Latifi, he is the Afghanistan correspondent for the L.A. Times. There's gonna be a slight delay in Ali's responses because of where he is. Ali Latifi, thank you for joining us. Ali, apparently how this power-sharing deal will work is not clear to many Afghans, talk about that.
MR. ALI LATIFISure, thank you for having me, Kojo, that's exactly the problem. There was a four-page agreement released but if you go back to the day that the agreement was signed, it was actually signed before anyone had read what was in the agreement. And even people who were in the presidential palace, they were...
NNAMDIUh-oh, it looks as if we're having connection problems with Ali Latifi again. That was the problem we were having earlier. We will keep trying to get him on a more secure line where you'll actually be able to hear everything he has to say, even though they'll probably continue to be a small delay. In studio with us is Andrew Wilder, vice president of South and Central Asia Programs at the United States Institute of Peace.
NNAMDIWe're taking your phone calls on the power-sharing deal reached in Afghanistan and how you think it will affect the, not only, Afghanistan but relations with the U.S. You can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, you can shoot us a tweet at kojoshow or go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. There was an international audit of these election results and we'll try to talk to Ali again, later, about how Afghan's feel about that, once we can get him on the phone. But, Andrew, it's not yet clear who will be responsible for what in this power-sharing deal. So what's the next step?
WILDERWell, I really think, I mean, the next step is for Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah to really sit down and try to form a partnership, 'cause really, the stakes are very high for Afghanistan now, that, if they cannot prove to work -- be able to work together effectively, I'm very pessimistic about future stability in Afghanistan and possibly even the country, you know, remaining -- not resorting back to Civil War.
WILDERThe International Community is losing interest in Afghanistan. The U.S. is drawing down troops at a rapid pace in Afghanistan, too rapidly in my opinion. International financial assistance is dwindling. This whole drawn out election crisis has created an economic crisis in Afghanistan, security is deteriorating and so, very quickly, this new government needs to form -- appoint key people into -- excellent people into the key positions of government and start governing. But this is where the real concern lies is, who will get the key positions in the new government and that's where a lot of the debates are already beginning.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones, here's Ballow (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Ballow, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BALLOWHi, Kojo. Thank you for having me...
NNAMDIUm, Ballow, are you there? It seems that Ballow's phone call has dropped off, even though he was not calling from Afghanistan. I'm pretty sure though, that if you're calling from the Washington area, we will be able to ultimately hear your calls. Andrew, can you talk about the U.S. role in this election and the long-term security agreement that's once again on the table?
WILDERWell, the U.S. stayed scrupulously uninvolved in the election or kept a distance and did not want to be perceived to be interfering in the election process, in the whole year leading up to the election. And I think that was positive. However, when the controversies arose and there was some concern that things could quickly deteriorate, we could have civil arrest, then Secretary Kerry did enter the picture, flew to Kabul and helped broker the very first agreement.
WILDERBut then tried to work out the details, took a long time and I think, it's now, unfortunate that this whole agreement now looks like a U.S. agreement. And we are gonna, unfortunately, own this agreement and many of the problems that, I think, might go along with it.
WILDERIt also has provided a victory to propaganda, a victory to the Taliban, who now are already claiming, this is a sham, government -- a puppet government, created by the Americans and look at the U.S. involvement in setting it up. And so I think, it's unfortunate, I think, also for the Afghan people who now feel like the end result was a result of a backroom political deal, as opposed to result of their votes on election day.
NNAMDIWe have Ali Latifi back from -- by phone, from Kabul, Afghanistan. He's the Afghanistan correspondent for the L.A. Times. Ali, will this power-sharing deal satisfy the supporters of both candidates and what do the Afghan people, as far as you can tell, make of the current power-sharing deal?
LATIFISure. Can you hear me now, Kojo?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
LATIFIOh, okay, perfect. So a lot of people are, going back to what you said earlier, you know, when the deal was signed, no one knew what was in it. And a lot of people are very confused. They're wondering how two men that spent two months, basically, arguing back and forth about the details of the deal will be able to form a government and what that will mean. Now, the people are relieved that the election has been settled but if you talk to supporters of either camp, neither one is happy.
LATIFIClearly, people who took to heart, Dr. Abdullah's claims of two and a half million fraudulent votes, feel as if, Dr. Ghani stole this election or that, as if he got there through fraudulent votes. And then if you talk to people on Dr. Ghani, they feel like they won their votes fair and square, that two and a half million votes weren't actually -- the fraud of two and a half million votes wasn't actually proven and they don't understand why they're having to when they had all of these plans, have to now make room for the opposing team, that they feel may get in the way any progress.
LATIFII was speaking to someone in the North, from (word?) Provence, a couple days ago, and he said, a lot of the supporters feel that no matter who they're supporting, that the programs that they have promised may not be able into come into fruition now because they have to work with two camps.
NNAMDIThis obviously poses a challenge for the two camps involved because what I'm hearing from you is that there's not a great deal of enthusiasm anywhere in Afghanistan about how well this will work.
LATIFIUm-hmm, exactly. And that's the question that everyone is asking, is, you know, if they didn't get along during the election process and a lot of the feeling right now is that, when the negotiations started to fall through, it wasn't necessarily between Abdullah and Ghani, that the problems existed, it was around the teams that supported them. And so, there is fear that even if these two men want to come to a deal with each and they want to work effectively, when you bring two teams together, how is that possible?
LATIFIYou know, how is it that two opposing teams will come together where, you know, they control certain ministries and work toward the benefit of the country.
NNAMDIAli, we got a tweet from Ballow, who says, "Afghan's are excited to move forward but there is a real danger if international support withdraws prematurely" and I'm sure that by international support, he means primarily the U.S. Ali, U.S. relations with the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai have been fraud for quite a while and he used his farewell speech yesterday to send a final zinger, saying, the U.S. has not wanted peace in Afghanistan. I'm curious though, how do the Afghan people feel about U.S. involvement in their country?
LATIFIThere are a lot of people that fear that if the U.S. and the international support to leave, that what we've seen in the North and (word?) province in what we've seen in the South and (word?) province, where the Taliban have staged huge operations and made pretty significant gain, that that could spread throughout the country. Now, if you talk to people -- and I did a story about this for the L.A. Times, if you talk to people in the areas where the war is really in the South, in places like, in the East in (unintelligible) providence, in the South and (unintelligible) and these kinds of places, they feel as if, they've been the victim of night raids, air raids, problems with the Taliban. That basically, a continued U.S. presence or foreign presence will only make things worse.
LATIFIThey feel as if, you know, they haven't seen anything positive coming from it. So why are we continuing this. But there are a great number of people that have seen vast improvements, that have seen vast improvements in terms of economic opportunities, educational opportunities, things of that nature, for people that were largely left out throughout previous administrations in this country, that don't want to lose that and that don't want the country to fall back into the Taliban.
LATIFISo it's split. I mean, I would say a good proportion, a good majority want foreign forces to stay because they are afraid of potential Taliban being -- but there are people that feel that they haven't seen the benefits of foreign presence in the country. So it's not 100 percent one way or the other.
NNAMDIIndeed, Andrew Wilder, you say Afghans have ambiguous feelings about the U.S.
WILDERWell, I think they do. I think many wish that there wasn't a need for foreign troops in Afghanistan. I'm sure most wish that but like Ali, I think that many fear the withdrawal of troops now more than they fear troops staying on because of the security implications, but also the economic implications. And I think this is an important point that without U.S. troops there maintaining robust levels of U.S. economic assistance to keep the Afghan economy afloat is going to be much more difficult to do.
WILDERAnd one of my biggest concerns right now is six months from now it's not going to be this flawed election process that's delegitimizing the government. It's going to be the economic collapse and the inability of the government to provide basic social services and even pay government salaries. And so the presence of international troops is important for security reasons but also economic reasons to keep the international community, and the U.S. in particular, engaged.
NNAMDIA lot of U.S. and international attention has shifted to Syria and has been focused on ISIS in recent weeks. Andrew, what does that mean for Afghanistan if we want, in six months, our interest to be focused there on the continuing economic situation?
WILDERWell, already there are some somewhat dark humorous sick jokes floating around that Afghans need to find some ISIS Afghanistan of people that may get some interest back in Afghanistan. Because there is fear that the interest in the region has shifted, not completely unlike when 2003 interest in Afghanistan shifted to Iraq. And Afghanistan got a lot less policy attention in that regard.
WILDERMy concern is actually in Afghanistan I think there is a relatively clear way forward that could lead to relative stability. I think in some of the situations in Syria and Iraq it's a lot less -- it's much less clear what needs to be done. But in Afghanistan if this government can move a reform agenda forward and the international community does remain engaged, and on that point I think one of the positive things we should see even next week is that the bilateral security agreement that will provide legal ability for the U.S. to keep troops beyond 2014 is likely to be signed.
WILDERAnd this is where there is complete consensus between Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani . So the new government should start with a win of actually agreeing on something important early on.
NNAMDIThe one word we have not mentioned yet in this conversation, Ali Latifi, is the word Taliban. Months of uncertainty during this election process gave the Taliban an opening. Can you talk about the current security situation and the prospects for a peace process moving forward?
LATIFIIf you -- Dr. Abdullah had an interview on CNN, I believe it was today or yesterday, and even he said that there needs to be a real concerted effort towards peace talks with the Taliban. And, you know, peace talks with the Taliban have been going on since about 2009 or 2010, but the problem has been that the government has largely been left out of this process. A lot of the talks that occurred that lead to the brief opening of the office in Doha was unofficial talks between U.S. and new officials and the Taliban.
LATIFISo what the government hopes to do now is include themselves in that process, bring themselves in that process and talk to the Afghan Taliban and really come to some sort of an agreement. The part of the disagreement between Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani in these political talks was that Dr. Ghani wanted to lead the opposition chair, the head of the opposition, he wanted to leave that open in hopes of being able to engage the Taliban and bring them into that position.
LATIFIThat's not now going to happen so they're going to need to come up with a new way to really embrace the Taliban, who have already shown that they don't have much interest, as Andrew said earlier, in their statement that they released after the election in this government that they feel is as much of a sham as the Karzai government. So they have to work very hard because, as I said earlier, you know, we're talking about provinces where the Taliban are significant gains very close to provincial capitals.
LATIFIAnd this is a very worrying situation because, you know, about a month ago, there was fighting in (word?) which is only about three hours away from Kabul. And so this is a big deal and this is something that they're going to have to address.
NNAMDIAndrew, the country, as you pointed out earlier, may be in worse shape fiscally in the number of -- and in a number of other ways than when this election process began. What are the challenges this new government is facing and what will it take from the country's new leaders, from the U.S., from the international community for this country to move forward, underscoring your previous remarks?
WILDERWell, I actually think the ball is first and foremost in now the camp of the new president elect and his CEO to demonstrate that they can actually take some of the necessary measures. First and foremost in the key appointments of people who are credible and don't have a reputation for being fabulously corrupt. But also take some concrete measures, even if initially symbolic, that we're going to counter -- that they're going to counter corruption and, for example, try to get money back from the nearly $1 billion stolen from Kabul bank.
WILDERIn exchange I think the international community then needs to give this government a chance. And for that there needs to be, I think, an economic assistance package provided to the new government so that they can pay their salaries and have, you know, a fighting chance of succeeding because right now the economic situation is dyer. I mean, the coffers are empty, Investment has stopped. Everyone has had a wait-and-see attitude. And unfortunately the questions about the viability of this new government means that that wait-and-see might be a longer period than we had intended.
WILDERBut I think if the Afghan -- new Afghan government takes steps, the international community really needs to then come in and support them financially. And then I do think that there is a prospect of Afghanistan moving forward. And the only other thing I would add is on the previous thing on the peace process, I think it was encouraging that President Ghani's first public statement he said the goal of our government is peace. I think he's wants to prioritize that.
WILDERBut that's where I think it's going to be very important for the U.S., that if it does look like we have a strong partner in President Karzai and with Dr. Abdullah there in strong contrast to president Karzai, that the U.S. administration reconsider the timeframe -- the rather rapid timeframe for drawing down international troops. Because if I were the Taliban, I would have a wait-and-see attitude that, you know, if the troops are pulling out already they're on the offensive. Let's just wait out the Americans until they've withdrawn all their troops.
NNAMDIAnd the final question to you Ali Latifi on the ground there, here we've been talking mostly about the challenges and the problems that could likely result on the ground there, what do you see as the sources for optimism about what could happen in the coming months and years in Afghanistan?
LATIFIRight now there's not that much optimism, to be quite honest. There's a lot of confusion and a lot of worry. Where people want to be optimistic and hope, as Andrew said, that the biggest change comes in an economic situation. Because I've been talking to several businessmen and different shopkeepers in several markets in Afghanistan this week and at Kabul this week, and they've all been saying their stocks are overloaded.
LATIFIYou know, they have -- I was talking to one shopkeeper, he sells electronics, and he was saying 70, 80 percent of the fans that he bought are still here, bought for the summer and the spring, he still has them. And we're going into winter now so where people hope that there will be some level of optimism or the need for there to be some level of optimism is in economic situations. Because we're facing double digit unemployment, that some people say it's up to 35 percent and maybe even higher.
NNAMDIAli Latifi is the Afghanistan correspondent for the L.A. Times. Andrew Wilder is vice-president of South and Central Asia programs at the United States Institute of Peace. Thank you both for joining us. We're going to be taking a short break. When we come back, the art of food writing from literature to cookbooks. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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