Ashraf Ghani: The Next ‘Lion King’ of Afghanistan?


DISCLAIMER: The opinions shared in this blog and related blogs are those of mine, and mine only. If you are easily offended, please DO NOT READ!

I spent a few days in Sri Lanka for work just a week ago and noticed so much had happened around the world in such a short period of time. So much misery: Hell broke loose in Ukraine, Thailand protests gone violent, Christians and Muslims hashing each other into pieces in Central African Republic, suicide bombings in Kabul and attack on Afghan presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s convoy, and Denmark making it illegal to slaughter animals for religious rituals.

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But nothing had prepared me for what I was going to see on social media upon my return. When I got home, after a refreshing shower I realized my Facebook news feed had exploded with comments, pictures, and videos circulating about Afghanistan’s presidential candidate and top global thinkers’ (whatever “global thinker” means or whoever decides on or measures such unthinkable thinking abilities?) suggestions made about legalizing poppy cultivation. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to such Afghan garbage. My immediate thought was that it was probably taken out of context and being used by his opposition to downplay his elections campaign. Then I did a bit of reading on what people were commenting and realized Dr. Ghani was referring to legalizing cannabis cultivation for ‘medical use’. Within 24-hours, Afghans couldn’t wait to poke fun at this ludicrous idea. I enjoyed the funny remarks, videos, and photos people were publishing – but all the jokes aside, irrespective of what drug he was making a reference to, I found the overall suggestion disturbing and had to give my own two cents on my Facebook status by reacting to it as follows:

My immediate reaction on Facebook.
My immediate reaction on Facebook.

You just saw my reaction. Now read my response.

Initially, I wanted to write an open letter to Dr. Ashraf Ghani and tweet it to his official twitter account to make sure he gets the message, but I decided I’d rather have such a conversation with him about this subject in person – if and when that happens. It is not very often that Afghanistan is known in the media for anything good. But when it does, as in the case of Dr. Ashraf Ghani when he was titled amongst the “top thinkers” of the world, only second to Richard Dawkins, it makes us proud. It makes us proud that one of us has made a mark on the world stage. But it’s very disappointing when we see such smart and respected people come up with not-so-smart ideas when they are trying to get to the top position of leadership in Afghanistan. I don’t know Dr. Ghani on a personal or on a professional level, and I have no right to judge him as a person, but when the person in subject is someone who who is going for the most demanded job amongst Afghanistan’s politicians these days, as citizens of Afghanistan, we have to do our due diligence.

The comment by Dr. Ashraf Ghani on Afghan TV about legalizing drug cultivation pushed the red button for many on social media. Whilst his idea may have a reasonable justification behind it, I don’t think Afghanistan is in any shape or form ready for such a move. In short three words, I would say his statement on legalizing drug cultivation in Afghanistan was ‘selfish and irresponsible’. Selfish because the statement focuses only on his single idea of what can be (potentially) positively done with drug cultivation in, however controlled and secured environment, and irresponsible because it was stated without considering the consequences in a country like Afghanistan that is already plagued because of the use of drugs.

John C. Maxwell, world renowned author on leadership, states in one of his books that, “when you accept a position of leadership, you give up your right to abuse people”. I see such a decision as further abuse of a nation already hurt at all the fundamental levels in her journey to survival.

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I found this quote online on Facebook a while back and I appropriately used it here. Share the wisdom!

In Afghanistan today, even after having troops from all the different countries, the government hardly has control over the country beyond Kabul’s borders. Recent cowardly attacks by the Taliban in the beautiful Kunar province that killed 21 soldiers is just one of the many stark reminders of how vulnerable we remain as a nation. Drugs, crime and prostitution usually come as one package – they’re part of the same industry. We already have the crime, drugs will become ‘legal’ per se if Dr. Ashraf Ghani had it his way, so what would be next? Legalization of prostitution in Afghanistan? Don’t be surprised – it was flourishing in those infamous “Chinese tea houses” of Kabul soon after 9/11 for those who still remember. These are also the main signs of poverty-stricken, desperate places that continue to go in a downward spiral of economic and social havoc where the younger generations are worse off than the older generations.

In its current state, Afghanistan remains a plagued nation in many ways:

  • We have no control over our borders,
  • No control or support mechanism for the already million-plus addicts,
  • No social or medical support for the younger drug addicts,
  • No clear idea of where the country is going after the elections that are due in nearly a month,
  • A crippled economy that’s almost entirely dependent on foreign aid making us one big beggar of a nation

So I can’t help but ask, what on earth was Dr. Ashraf Ghani thinking when he made those remarks? Or more appropriately ask, what on earth was Dr. Ashraf Ghani smoking?! I also wonder if Dr. Ashraf Ghani wondered what a disaster this would be as a public relations stunt for his Afghan audience – much worse, how would such a position on a sensitive topic which involves economics and politics reflect on his supporters – most of whom probably know least bit about any of these topics anyway and are mesmerized by the flamboyant display of a knowledgeable thinker. Can you imagine the wet dreams Afghanistan’s drug lords must be having after hearing their next potential president could legalize cannabis? I’m not surprised at all that not a single western journalist has opened his/her mouth about this – after all, they wouldn’t want one of the top western-endorsed future ‘Lion Kings’ to be given negative publicity by the very hands that would be feeding the ego and developing the image of this next ‘Lion King’, when he wins. Where are all those propagandists? The New York Timers, Wall Street Journalists, and Washington Posters to cover this story globally and bring this discussion to light for their global thinking audience around the world? Perhaps none of their Afghan pets or sidekicks have interpreted Dr. Ghani’s interview for them and it’s gone under the radar.

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We Need GLOCAL Thinkers, Not GLOBAL Thinkers in Afghanistan

When I shared the idea of writing something up about an open letter to Dr. Ashraf Ghani about his drug legalization idea on twitter, some wrote back saying that if it happens in the UK for medical purposes then why can’t we do it too? People who are making this argument have lost the underlying reasons for opposition to such an idea and are not looking at the long-term effects on the society and the inevitable consequences. First of all, we are not the UK, or The Netherlands, or any other developed country where the basic conditions to establish a civil society are already in place, where the living standards, literacy levels, health and medical facilities, and just about everything else is light years ahead of Afghanistan. When that day comes when Afghanistan is just like the UK and The Netherlands, then yes, we can explore options of legalizing drug cultivation for medical usage.

If even after growing a beard, putting on a turban to blend in, wearing the national dress for men and kissing the Afghan flag in public to display patriotism, Dr. Ghani fails to see the reality of the Afghan nation from within the Afghan perspective, then we have a problem. Perhaps Dr. Ghani should stick to his strength of being an economical leader and not a political leader. This is a common challenge I find with Afghans that have spent far too much time in the west and are now looking at the top job in Afghanistan – they don’t think within the Afghan context. That’s why I think we need leaders who have the global experience but keep the local perspective of Afghanistan in mind – the ‘glocal’ leader. Being sensitive to the basic needs of the people and the realities of the country are the key to Afghanistan’s future leaders’ success.

President Karzai stated in one of his speeches that he wants the future president to be someone who would be a ‘lion in face of the foreigners’. If Dr. Ashraf Ghani happens to be the pick, I’m sure we’ll hear him meow…I mean… ROAR!

ATTENTION ALL AFGHANS: Make sure you pick the right Simba!
ATTENTION ALL AFGHANS: Make sure you vote for the right Simba!

I want to use this opportunity to share some of the information I came across with recently on Al Jazeera in relation to the topic of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, and other important information about drugs in general below:

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