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Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Ashraf Ghani is Afghanistan's finance minister. He was interviewed by David Kirkpatrick

Here are my notes.

Q: What's at stake in Afghanistan.

A: Positive and negative. Freedom from terror and freedom from drugs. Afghanistan can easily be turned into a mafia state. Afghan heroin has made it to California.

We have on our borders some of the largest energy producing states as well as nuclear states. The stability of Afghanistan could help stabilize this region.

Even people who's homes were accidentally bombed by Americans still welcome American soldiers. This is different than the rest of the Middle East.

We've been a trading people for a couple of thousand years. We thrive in networks, but not in hierarchies.

Q: Give us an update. The US media says Afghanistan is in quasi chaos.

A: Quasi chaos is quasi progress. US is not known for depth or understanding. They don't take push-back. They don't engage in debate.

Can't type fast enough, but he's giving a update on all of the great progress they are making.

Progress is good, but problem is expectations. Bush and Blair got up and promised a miracle.

70% of our people live under $1 a day. How do you convince people $1B is a small amount of money.

I'm not going to chase foreign aid and I want to get out of foreign aid in 10 years.

$1 of foreign investment is worth $5-$10 in foreign aid.

Kofi Anan is a great leader but the UN system doesn't work. There are lessons from Afghanistan that can help other countries.

Q: What is the prospect that you can get a grip on the drug mafia in Afghanistan.

A: They told me I had 0.1% chance of success. Cotton will not compete with poppy, but the T-Shirt will.

Poppy is a male crop. Women are not involved in the cultivation of poppy. What a family looks for is its overall income. How do we connect the women to the market. The management skills to get them to the value change.

Every drug producing center of Afghanistan is a center of cotton production. Tax incentives for textile companies would help. Security for textile cities.

Seasonal labor is the weak point of the drug industry.

They need to be given an assurance that things will get better.

It took Thailand 10 years. Afghanistan doesn't have 10 years because it could be taken over by the mafia before that.

Q: Moving companies to Afghanistan could help deal with this mafia issue which is putting the world at risk. They aren't coming because they are afraid?

A: July of 2002, there wasn't a single mobile phone in Kabul. Now my mobile phone from Afghanistan works here. The US spends $11B / yr security in Afghanistan. Security is not about spending money on military. It's about jobs.

Afghanistan is growing quickly. If it could be given a push....

Q: Are you optimistic long term with relationship between the region and the US.

A: The classic age of Islam needs to be understood. We didn't go through the medieval period. This is a confident culture. The extremists exist because of lack of open debate and dialog and this is because of the cold war. Most muslims are moderate. Go to muslim countries. You'll find people like you. We are in clashes. We are not focused enough on solutions.

I'll turn it around. Can you function without the Middle East? Can you exist without oil from the Middle East? If you can't exist without us, we need to focus on solutions.

The risk to my life is about 95% which is worth the risk of saving the millions of people of Afghanistan. I was educated by the people and it was a price I was willing to pay.

Q: You talked about the drug mafia but not about warlords? What do you do with the rest of the country where you can't protect people from the warlords.

A: The ministry of finance is collecting from every corner of the country and we have influence across the country. We need to look at diverse sources of power.

Up until now, monopoly of violence was the source of power. Rules are also power. These people are afraid. Human rights prosecution, etc. They are afraid. We haven't addressed these issues. 80% of Afghanistan has always been self-policed. Need to enhance the social capital of the regions. Communities that ensure security should get reconstruction assistance. Getting free of drugs should provide more assistance.

The answer is about understanding cold self-interest. We've rebuilt the country a hundred times in the past. We'll rebuild. But the rest of the world has to understand the issues to provide help.

Q: Are the terrorists working with the drug mafia.

A: Drug money is easy fast money. $4B in Afghanistan, $40B outside of Afghanistan. The ability for this to do harm is huge.


It took Thailand 10 years to do what? Build up to a several months long orgy of killing in the name of ridding the country of drugs roundly criticized by numerous human rights groups? And succeed only in increasing drug prices and denying any problems?

Chris Anderson
I tried to post the comment below on your page about Ashraf Ghani but received a 'forbidden access' error message.

Here's the comment:

"Great to have these notes online. I'd add that it's impossible to convey in text how charismatic and persuasive this man is. He convinced a lot of people that what happens in Afghanistan over the next few years will play a key role in the world's future security. btw, his answer to the second question referred to "the US media" not just "the US".

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