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From Teaching Anthropology To Ruling A Country - Who’s Ashraf Ghani?

What task can be more overwhelming than to revitalize a nation in a declining state? From academician to a world leader, Ashraf Ghani took the challenge to rebuild Afghanistan.

Feb 09, 20244.2K Shares59.5K ViewsWritten By: Alastair Martin
Jump to
  1. Early Life Of Ashraf Ghani
  2. Ashraf Ghani Family
  3. Ashraf Ghani Education
  4. Ashraf Ghani Career
  5. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
  6. Ashraf Ghani - People Also Ask
  7. Final Thoughts
From Teaching Anthropology To Ruling A Country - Who’s Ashraf Ghani?

If you Google Ashraf Ghaniand click “News,” the first ten results will tell you that the latest one about him was published this month.

The second most recent was dated September 12, 2023, one of the six news articles about him published last year (and we’re only talking about Google results here).

Afghanistan’s 74-year-old former president - a professor prior to that - last served in August 2021; yet, people still find him in the news.

Tucker Elliot, the author of The Day Before 9/11 (2013), his memoir about the time he was a teacher at a U.S. military base in South Korea, was quoted by Goodreads when he said: “Educators are in the news, too. Usually that’s bad.”

Well, the news about Ashraf Ghani was him as an ex-leader, not as a teacher.

The February news article by Khaama Press featuring him tells readers about his frustrations over some bad news in Afghanistan: irregularities, lack of transparency, the country’s exportation of heroin, and so on.

How’s Afghanistan when Ashraf Ghani - who ranked second in a 2013 international poll by British magazine Prospect on “world thinkers” - was the one in power?

Early Life Of Ashraf Ghani

On February 12, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his birthday greetings to Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani was in Munich, Germany, when he replied to Modi. He thanked him but mentioned a different date of birth.

Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was born on May 19, 1949 in Mohammad Agha District in Logar Province in Eastern Afghanistan.

Per Afghan Biographies, he belonged to the ethnic group Pashtun, aka Pakhtun (“Ahmadzai” refers to a Pashtun tribe) and his family was “influential.”

His parents are Shah Pesand (father), a clerk in a corporation, and Kawbaba Lodin (mother).

He has a younger brother named Hashmat Ghani, who worked as a cab driver in Virginia, USA, from the 80’s through the 90’s.

Interestingly, the site mentioned that there are people who agree that Ashraf Ghani’s face looks like a combination of two prominent American figures: comedian and actor Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and boxing legend Mike Tyson.

Ashraf Ghani Family

The wife of Ashraf Ghani is neither an Afghan nor a Muslim like him; rather, Rula Ghani (maiden name: Rula F. Saadah/Saade) is a Lebanese Christian.

Per Market Realist, they got married in 1975.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Afghanistan’s former first lady found herself included in the 2015 edition of Time 100, the magazine’s annual list of the world’s most influential people.

A bespectacled Rula Ghani in white veil talking beside the Afghan flag, with an Arabic text and a mosque in it
A bespectacled Rula Ghani in white veil talking beside the Afghan flag, with an Arabic text and a mosque in it

According to an article by WAVE (Women against Violence Europe), Rula Ghani earned her bachelor’s degree in Journalism and master’s degree in International Relations at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

She worked as a journalistin a French news agency.

Aside from Arabic, her mother tongue, she can also speak English and French, and, after marrying Ashraf Ghani, started to learn Persian.

They have two children - both born and educated in the U.S. - namely, Mariam (born 1978) and Tarek (born 1982).

Each of them has an impressive educational background:

NameEducation & Career
Mariam GhaniB.S. in Comparative Literature (summa cum laude), New York University
artist, photographer, filmmaker, teacher, writer
Tarek GhaniB.S. in Symbolic Systems (Stanford University)
Ph.D. in Business & Public Policy (University of California, Berkeley)
(as of writing; February 2024)assistant professor of strategy (Washington University in St. Louis)
(previous work)chief economist (International Crisis Group; a think tank in Belgium)

Ashraf Ghani Education

Ashraf Ghani both studied in Afghanistan and abroad (Lebanon and USA):

Educational LevelSchool
SecondaryHabibia High School (Kabul, Afghanistan)
TertiaryAmerican University of Beirut (Lebanon)
DegreeB.A. in Political Studies
PostgraduateColumbia University (New York City)
Degreemaster’s: Anthropology; doctorate: Cultural Anthropology

In the late ‘60s, an educational opportunity came to Ashraf Ghani: was chosen to participate in a U.S. student exchange program for one academic year, according to The National.

In 1966, he was in Manhattan, New York, for the program orientation.

For School Year 1966-1967, reported Oregon Live, he attended Lake Oswego High School (LOHS) in the City of Lake Oswego in Oregon.

New York-based American Field Service (est. 1914) sponsored the said program.

In a LOHS yearbook, in the row of student pictures, “Ashraf Ahmad” is written under his photo. In a picture showing him dancing during homecoming, the caption identifies him as “Ashraf Ahmad Zai.”

Ashraf Ghani became a member of the student council and the wrestling team.

Per The National, he qualified for a college scholarship from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and went to American University of Beirut (AUB).

His doctoral thesis: Production and Domination: Afghanistan, 1747-1901. Here, according to TheKeyExecutives.com, he discusses Afghanistan’s problematic economy and struggle to create a centralized government.

According to Columbia.edu, when he was working at World Bank, Ashraf Ghani took part in leadership training programsfrom:

  • Harvard BusinessSchool
  • INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires) in France
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business
Ashraf Ghani in a blazer worn over traditional Afghan clothes seated across Lotfullah Najafizada in an interview
Ashraf Ghani in a blazer worn over traditional Afghan clothes seated across Lotfullah Najafizada in an interview

Ashraf Ghani Career

On its websitededicated to the World Leaders Forum - where he was once invited as a guest speaker - Columbia University described Ashraf Ghani as a “leading scholar of Political Science and Anthropology.”

In the 2010 FP Top 100 Global Thinkers, an annual list by the established international magazine Foreign Policy, he ranked at number 50. He shared the spot with former United Nations adviser Clare Lockhart, who also made the list in 2009.

Quoted from a 2009 Asia Times article by retired Indian ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar, according to journalist and author Jeffrey Stern:

His [Ghani’s] reputation as an academic, technocrat, and reformer is close to sterling.- Jeffrey E. Stern

No wonder other people - intellectuals, themselves - sought him for guidance:

RoleReports To
Special Adviser (started: 2001)Lakhdar Brahimi (Algerian U.N. diplomat)
Chief Adviser (pro bono)Hamid Karzai (Afghanistan’s fourth president)

When he assumed the role of a political adviser, they were working under the following capacity:

  • Brahimi - as U.N. Secretary General’s special envoy to Afghanistan
  • Karzai - as Afghanistan’s interim president (he appointed Ashraf Ghani as finance minister when he became president)

Even BBC News Afghanistan (Pashto and Dari services), according to Columbia.edu, valued his views: it frequently invited him as guest commentator.

As for his academic experience:

RoleSchool & Inclusive Years
Teacher (Afghan Studies; Anthropology;)Kabul University (1974-1977)
TeacherAarhus University - Denmark (1977)
Teacher (Anthropology)University of California, Berkeley (1983)
Teacher (Anthropology)Johns Hopkins University (1983-1991)
ChancellorKabul University (January 2005-2009)*

*Per CNN. From Carnegie Council: 2004-2008.

As for his other professional experience:

RoleInstitution & Inclusive Years
Lead AnthropologistWorld Bank (1991-2001)
Finance MinisterKarzai Administration (2002-2004)
CommissionerUNDP’s Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (2005-2008)
ChairmanTransition Coordination Commission (2010-2013)

Per German media company Deutsche Welle(DW), Ashraf Ghani was nominated for the post of:

  • U.N. Secretary General
  • World Bank president

As Finance Minister, DW noted how he performed “a series of successful reforms,” with them being, as described by Columbia.edu, “some of the most extensive and challenging” ever to be implemented in Afghanistan.

For one, he set up the plan for the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) to make the country self-reliant, with a proposed budget of:

  • $8.2 billion - first 3-year program
  • $27.5 billion - for the whole 7-year program

In addition, Columbia.edu wrote:

Dr. Ghani has combined personal integrity with extremely tough measures against corruption . . . he fired corrupt officials from the Finance Ministry, ignoring those who threatened to take revenge.- Columbia University - World Leaders Forum (worldleaders.columbia.edu)

Therefore, for his accomplishments, tenacity, and bravery as finance head, Ashraf Ghani received the:

  • Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan Medal (Afghanistan’s highest civilian award)
  • 2003 Best Finance Minister of Asia award (by the magazine Emerging Markets)

In 2005, Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart founded the Institute for State Effectiveness (ISE), a non-governmental organization in Washington, D.C. Lockhart is its current director.

He is a member of the Board of Directors of World Justice Project (est. 2006), a non-profit organization that, according to its website, aims to “stimulate action to advance the rule of law worldwide.”

A smiling Ashraf Ghani with white stubble in black blazer worn over a white buttoned round-collared clothing
A smiling Ashraf Ghani with white stubble in black blazer worn over a white buttoned round-collared clothing

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

As they say, if at first you don’t succeed, then try again.

Ashraf Ghani gave up his U.S. citizenship to be an eligible presidential candidate in the 2009 Afghan election.

Per Afghan Biographies, he secured the services of American political consultantJames Carville, who handled the successful presidential campaign of Bill Clinton in 1992.

Nevertheless, Ghani only managed to clinch barely 3% of the votes.

For the second consecutive time, Hamid Karzai (first term: 2004-2009) won the presidency (2009-2014).

It appears, however, that it’s his destiny to become the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, winning not only once but twice:

  • first term: September 29, 2014 to September 2019
  • second: March 9, 2020 to August 2021

On a bright note, per TED Talks: Ashraf Ghani, as president:

  • made economic, banking, and trade reforms
  • established “land and air corridors”
  • constructed railways and revived the Lapis Lazuli and Chabahar trade routes to improve trade

The organization added:

He established fundamental reforms to ensure social justice and political participation, particularly meaningful participation of Afghan women and youth in politics, as well as reforms in legal and justice, procurement, and security institutions.- TED Talks

While some commended Ashraf Ghani as president (“Afghanistan’s modern-day technocrat” by Afghan-Web.com; “lion of the desert” by TheKeyExecutives.com), others slammed him.

Eisa Khan Ayoobi’s 2018 opinion piece in Al Jazeera accuses Ashraf Ghani of promoting ethnic divisions in Afghanistanduring his first term of office.

Frud Bezhan, a desk editor at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL), shared the view of Ayoobi, when he described Ghani in a 2021 RFERL article as a “deeply polarizing president.”

In another 2018 opinion piece, this time published by Mehr News Agency, Pakistani journalist Masood Chaudhary calls him “a puppet king” - the U.S. government’s puppet, that is.

Chaudhary believes that America is using him as a “pawn” to continue its influence in Afghanistan.

Ashraf Ghani Leaves Afghanistan

In May 2021, the U.S. withdrew its troops in Afghanistan, which the Taliban perceived as an opportunity to get back its hold on the country.

And that’s exactly what this Afghan militant organization did.

The Taliban’s renewed pursuit of power cut short the second term of Ashraf Ghani.

News agencies reported how the Taliban gained control over the country, including the capital, Kabul, by middle of August.

Ali Adili, a researcher at the non-profit Kabul-based think tank Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), told RFERL:

His [Ghani] divisive and unpopular leadershipaffected the management and planning of the war.- Ali Adili

On August 15, 2021, per Reuters, Ghani fled Afghanistan and headed to Tajikistan, as officially announced by an unnamed Interior Ministry official. According to RFERL, he left without informing senior officials.

Amrullah Saleh, his vice president, called his decision to leave as “disgraceful,” quoted BBC.

In his defense, Ashraf Ghani said, as quoted by Reuters:

To avoid bloodshed, I thought it would be better to leave.- Ashraf Ghani

In his December 2021 BBC interview, he explained that leaving was unplanned and “sudden.”

From Kabul, he wanted to go to Khost, but National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib told him that the Taliban already captured that city.

They - Ghani and wife, Rula; Mohib; and Chief of Staff Fazel Fazly - boarded a plane and left the country. He added that the president’s security was at risk.

Ashraf Ghani - People Also Ask

Which Afghan President Fled With $169 Million Dollars?

Al Jazeera reported that allegations about Ashraf Ghani taking $169 million with him when he fled surfaced.

When asked about it, Ghani denied doing so.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. government agencyinvestigating the matter, said in a report that based on its interviews with some palace officials, Ashraf Ghani and company could have taken with them approximately $440,000 of government money.

Where Is Ashraf Ghani Now?

Reports indicate that Ashraf Ghani resides in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Per Afghan Biographies, UAE officials received him for humanitarian reasons.

Is Ashraf Ghani Back In Afghanistan?

In his August 2022 interviewwith American journalist Nick Schifrin for PBS, Ashraf Ghani said that he wouldn’t go back “under the Taliban rule.”

Still, he added that he’d “be delighted to return as an Afghan citizen” to a better and more improved Afghanistan.

Final Thoughts

Together with Clare Lockhart, Ashraf Ghani wrote the book Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World (2009), published by Oxford University Press.

One of those failed nations is Afghanistan.

PBS reported that based on an April 2023 U.N. Development Program (UNDP) report, in 2020, there were an estimated 19 million Afghans living in poverty.

During his time as president (2014-2021), Ashraf Ghani tried to uplift the conditions of the country, but it appears that he failed miserably.

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