Maybe I’m not supposed to admit this, but it’s true: I liked Ashraf Ghani from the moment I met him. Back in 2009, he was a long-shot candidate running for president of Afghanistan. He welcomed me into his home in Kabul, which was lined with old books and Persian rugs. A former World Bank official who wrote a book titled “Fixing Failed States,” Ghani looked just as wonky in person as he did on the billboards. In a country full of warlords with private militias, he seemed like the geek who had no chance.
I remember thinking that was a shame. His ideas impressed me. He told me about his fight as finance minister to get the US Agency for International Development to buy Afghan agricultural products instead of dumping free American wheat on the country, which put local farmers out of business. He told me how US officials had budgeted an astronomical sum to take the old Taliban-era money out of circulation, but he’d gotten it done far cheaper, using local hawala money-changers.