President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammed Ashraf Ghani interviewed with World Apart Network on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 20th of July 2015. The first part of the interview you can read here.
OB: Welcome back to Worlds Apart where we are discussing Afghanistan and Asian integration with the President of Afghanistan, Mohammed Ashraf Ghani. Mr President, let me switch gears a little bit. Your academic background, as you mentioned, is in anthropology, which in its broadest sense is the science about humans and human societies. How relevant do you find your academic experience to your current occupation, and have you ever changed fields? Because I think a case could be made that world politics is a prime example of cultural anthropology in action.
MAG: No, I have learned many new fields, I have never changed my field. And I practice it on a daily basis. Because the discipline has given me the capability to hear, to listen, and not to impose the categories of thought. Its greatest advantage to me is the ability to listen very carefully – listening is in very short supply. And then to be able to take an idea and express it 20 different ways, because the idiom of the interlocutor requires that understanding. And we’re all in discursive, symbolic fields, and we need to be able to communicate through symbols that are mutually understandable, not mutually incomprehensible.
OB:One thing that I would argue anthropology teaches you is that there are no right or wrong societies, and that something that works in one society does not necessarily work in another society. I think your country is a very good example of that. You know, foreigners did try to impose their vision very unsuccessfully. And yet, I would argue that this notion of one superior way of development is still present in global politics. I think the US makes it the central pillar of its foreign policy. And I’m going to ask you, not as a very diplomatic head of state, but as a former cultural anthropologist – is it something that would have to give way sooner or later, this idea that there is one way that is better than others?
MAG: (crosstalk) Well, that is not confined to the United States. The Soviet Union was a prime practitioner of it.
OB:But the Soviet Union is no longer in existence.
MAG: No, but the habits of thought, they invaded my country because of that way of thought.
OB:Absolutely, I agree with you.
MAG: So, the level, assumptions are a prison. Assumption become means of wielding violence. A society that was no threat to anybody was pulverised. And that came precisely because of assumptions of superiority. Weren’t they calling us basmichis? Weren’t they calling us medieval? Weren’t they calling us incapable of being able to wield? We defended ourselves. So it is important to understand that in today’s world, development is multi-tracked. And the other part is that there is no such thing as an economy without a cultural framework. Economies are constructed as cultural systems, and what goes for free market in Germany will be unrecognisable in England, and vice-versa. So we have to be able to fashion – the developmental field is underdeveloped. The practitioners learn by rote, project by project etc. You know, my former colleagues in the World Bank always find me a very difficult person, because when they bring me something, I know its roots, its origins, and its not suitable to us. This is a field where we need to be enormously careful and attentive. And I think that is the key lesson that is being learned.
OB:Speaking about your experience at the World Bank, one very interesting fact about your biography is that you spent a substantial amount of time in China, in India, in Russia, managing large-scale projects. And since we’re here in Ufa at the sidelines of both BRICS and CSO (sic) summits, do you think that these countries really have the synergies that they really have? And what are some of the things that they have to be careful about, what are some of the things that can pull them apart?
MAG: Well first of all, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has proven its relevance. The boundary between Russia and China is now the market. This could have been an enormous area of conflict. Two – it’s proven its relevance by now, focussing on larger economic integration. What I think we are witnessing is the emergence of a Eurasian continental economy. The only previous example is that of the United States. I think the inclusion of India and Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is an important step. The shape of the agenda is not become clear. What I think they are doing is operating much more like ASEAN than the European Union. There is not a particular architectural model. They are exploring cooperation. In terms of infrastructure, there’s very significant movement. Because the Chinese pattern of development, and then others. In the next 20 years, globally there’s going to be about $60-85 trillion that are going to be spent on infrastructure. A very large portion of this is going to be in the Eurasian continental economy.
OB:That leads me, actually, to my next question, because all these countries do have this grand vision of Eurasia being this new engine of growth that potentially may even rival, let’s say, the old Europe in terms of economic growth. Do you think this vision has any opponents? Can it be realised, given that, let’s say there is a strong, another strong concept of this region that has been operating in foreign policy? I’m talking about the Grand Chessboard, and the continent being the platform geopolitical competition, rather than cooperation…
MAG: Look, China and India are historical, transformation phenomena. Putting those two back into the bottle of old thinking is an impossibility. We’re going, we are returning to the 18thcentury, where China and India roughly constituted 60% of the global economy. So, there are certain land masses, there are certain types of populations, and the key is really going to be how they’re going to figure their relationship between politics and economics and culture. And how they would adjust to these types. Without cooperation, the growth, the breakneck growth that has happened, will not be sustainable.
OB:Now, speaking about these patterns of cooperation and figuring out the new relationship between politics and economy, obviously you know that we live at a time of tensions between Russia and the US. And those two countries have had a significant impact on the history of your own land in the past. In the present, you’ve managed to maintain a working relationship with both. Do you have any idea of what kind of mechanism could enable Moscow and Washington to co-exist peacefully, without threatening others, and perhaps even cooperate?
MAG: Well first, Afghanistan will be a prime example of everybody needing to cooperate, because the imperative of cooperation exceeds competition. The threats should be, God forbid fail, will be quite serious to all our interlocutors, particularly to Russia and the US. Second, the architecture of mid-20th century is not answering the needs of 2015. We are in a period where the rules of the game that were arrived at, and allowed for certain type of stability and certain type of conflict, are in flux. The task of the next ten years is going to be really to figure out global patterns of cooperation, and [to] arrive at this. International organisations like the UN are exceedingly weak. How the mutual adjustment takes place is very significant. And one thing one needs to learn, I had the privilege of working in Russia in 1990s, and Russia was ignored. There was, the West is paying for its historical mistake then of not taking the desires and the wishes of the Russian people. I worked in Siberia, when money had literally disappeared, everything was barter. The sort of human development indicator decline that took place, the extent of poverty, deprivation and others, that was the product of the break-up, made a very proud people very angry.
OB:Well, it may be similar to the historic experience of Afghanistan. If I may ask you very, very quickly. I heard you say once that politics is not a love marriage, it is a product of historic necessities. And I think it could be claimed that the personal rapport does, or the lack of it, does influence politics and relationship between countries. What is your own personal rule on how you deal with people that you don’t even want to be in the same room with?
MAG: Well, as I said, in Afghanistan internally, when I returned after 24 years, if it were not that understanding of historical necessity, I wouldn’t have shaken hands. But history gives us our interlocutors, and we need to really seriously understand that we cannot impose a view. We need to arrive at consensus. We need to build consensus, and that’s what I’m engaged in. And I engage the exactly same rule in terms of my regional approach, as you witnessed. It’s been very active in – reaching out has been on our side. I carefully study every country that I interact with, and every leader that I interact with. And fortunately, I’ve been able to find ways of communicating that allows us to have a dialogue. And that dialogue then becomes the basis of sustained interactions. And trust-building is important. You cannot, in today’s world, be saying one thing and behaving another way. And it’s extraordinarily important to open a field of communication in terms that are comprehensible and always requires appreciation of the other side’s view, her or his history and interests. That way, I think we can find common ground in change. What I see, myself, is a catalyst for changing fields of discourse. So what was previously proxy, a site of proxy warfare, now becomes a field of production of wealth or stability. Here, you can change the perspective of the stakeholder, and thereby the stakes.
OB:Well, Mr President, that’s great advice. Hopefully it will be taken in capitals around the world. But for the time being, I do thank you for being here on the show.