Ashraf Ghani: From academia to the Afghan presidency

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Afghanistan declared incumbent Ashraf Ghani the winner of a disputed presidential election on Tuesday, almost five months after voting took place in September.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, 70, is an anthropologist, academic and a former employee of the World Bank who left Afghanistan in 1977 and returned about two decades later. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday (Feb 18) was finally declared the winner of last September's presidential election, after months of delays due to allegations of vote-rigging from his main rival, Mr Abdullah Abdullah.

Mr Ghani, 70, is an anthropologist, academic and a former employee of the World Bank who left Afghanistan in 1977 and returned about two decades later.

He studied at Columbia University in New York and taught at several US universities during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In late 2001, after the Taleban were ousted by a US-led invasion, Mr Ghani moved back to Kabul as a senior UN special adviser, going on to become a key architect of the interim government.

He became a powerful finance minister under President Hamid Karzai from 2002 to 2004, campaigning against burgeoning corruption.

Renowned for his intensity and energy, Mr Ghani introduced a new currency, set up a tax system, encouraged wealthy expat Afghans to return home, and cajoled donors as the country emerged from the austere Taleban era.

Mr Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, was a candidate for the 2014 presidential election, with Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum - accused of human rights abuses - as his first vice-president and Mr Sarwar Danish, a Hazara, as his second deputy.

Mr Ghani lit up the campaign trail with a series of fiery speeches, and he did better than many expected in the first round by taking 31.6 per cent of the vote to the 45 per cent of Mr Abdullah, forcing the election to a second round.

The run-off was engulfed in fraud allegations, but Mr Ghani emerged as an easy victor with 55 per cent to Mr Abdullah's 45.

He eventually formed a National Unity Government with Mr Abdullah after the US mediated an awkward power-sharing deal.

Preliminary results in the 2019 vote - released in December - showed that he had won again but Mr Abdullah swiftly alleged vote-rigging, forcing a recount.

Mr Ghani has variously been described as visionary, short-tempered, academic and overly demanding.

In the five years since his election, he has made little headway against deep-rooted government corruption and has been dismissed by the Taleban as a US-controlled "puppet".

Mr Ghani and his administration have been sidelined from talks between the US and the Taliban, but he has insisted on taking part in any future negotiations with the insurgents.

If such talks fail, Mr Ghani has vowed to fight the militants "for generations" if necessary.

Mr Ghani is married to Rula, whom he met while studying for his first degree at the American University in Lebanon, and has two children.

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