Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani says that, if elected, he will do all in his power to promote "genuine reconciliation." Ghani is among the front-runners to win the April 5 presidential election. He spoke to RFE/RL's Frud Bezhan about what he will do if he doesn't win the first round, and what his plans are should he be elected president.
RFE/RL: What would Afghanistan look like with you as president?
Ghani: God willing, if this national honor is entrusted to me, Afghanistan will become stable, peaceful, democratic, and it would have the foundations for prosperity.
RFE/RL: What key reforms will you bring about if you are elected president?
Ghani: Rule of law is the first imperative. It's going to start from me. Not a single edict, action I will take would be without a prior review on the basis of the laws.
Second is the issue of governance. We hope on the issue of corruption -- to advance, within three years, 100 points on Transparency International's index. I’m confident that we will be able to achieve this and then lay the foundation for one of the cleanest governments in the region. Third is [the] issue of the economy. Our rate of growth in 2012 was 12 percent; in 2013 it was 4 percent; by the time we take office it might be zero or in the negative territory. Unemployment and poverty are two of the major threats to the country, particularly poverty. Attending to the vulnerable to make sure we have an inclusive economic system and a growth that is sustainable so we get out of dependency on international assistance would be a key drive and we have the advantages to do that. Most significantly, we need to reach a lasting peace. A lasting peace means that the government institutions have to become strong enough to guarantee the individual safety and security as well as the well-being of every Afghan.
RFE/RL: Since the April 5 presidential election, have you met with President Hamid Karzai and your rival candidates? If so, what did you discuss?
Ghani: Yes, I have met with the president and I have met some of my fellow -- I don't call them rivals but partners. We are having conversations, but I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, but I've met with others. We talked about the transparency of the election. I thanked the president for his neutrality and that this day passed without any incidents, and that we hope that the neutrality the president has shown will be preserved throughout and that the legal institutions, mainly the two [election] commissions will do their work.
RFE/RL: Will you contest a second-round run off if you do not win an outright majority? There have been suggestions that candidates could look to strike a behind-the-scenes deal to avoid a runoff.
Ghani: Absolutely. The electoral law is very specific. The two leading candidates are required to participate in a runoff. We hope that we'll win, but should it come to that, we're fully committed to obeying the law because the people of Afghanistan should have a choice. In a field of many candidates, a mandate is not as clear as it would be in a two-way contest. And we need the mandate in order to reform. Having said that, I’m committed to a government of national unity so that all walks of Afghan life will be represented. I do not believe in a formula of 'winner takes all' because the stability of this country requires political consensus, and we must forge that.
RFE/RL: If you become president, will you prosecute former warlords and corrupt government officials?
Ghani: The people want a form of transitional justice. Our culture – our Islamic and our national culture – is one of mercy and forgiveness. We will design a very culturally specific term that will give us the psychological release and a genuine reconciliation. But we are not going to get bogged down in our past in a way that deprives us of a future. That means coming together, accepting responsibility and moving on, and making sure that if there are victims we attend to them. We heal. It's a process of healing our wounds. We're a deeply wounded society.For the first time, centrist politics in Afghanistan, where everyone is accepting each other, is becoming the norm. April 5 was a justification of our approach. All people from Afghanistan came and embraced the democratic process. Let's give [a chance] to the democratic process to work out so we can resolve the issue of the past. Let the people arrive at the formula [for reconciliation] that is acceptable [to them]. We are not brushing anything under the rug. But violence is not an answer to violence.
RFE/RL: Are you saying that those who have committed war crimes will go unpunished? We are talking about individuals involved in crimes like mass murder and even ethnic cleansing.
Ghani: The process is going to be designed to make sure we reach genuine reconciliation. A society in conflict like Ireland, did it choose to hang people or reconcile? Look at Europe's history. Germany has become a marvel of democracy and tolerance. But wasn't it one of the most intolerant countries? Germany found a way. Allow us to find our way. Do not prejudge things. We have the moral authority because my hands are clean. But we need to genuinely reconcile. The first imperative of a society is stability. And we need to arrive there. It is a lot of work.
RFE/RL: If you are elected president, what kind of government will you create?
Ghani: A government of competence; a government that delivers. I had no money and I had no backing from a government party or foreign backing. This is a genuine social movement, and it is going to deliver.
RFE/RL: If you lose the election, will you go to the opposition?
Ghani: I'm going to win the election. So, let's talk about options after the legal process has taken its course.