“Everyone is failing us.” These were the first words that Ashraf Ghani uttered — not as he fled the advancing Taliban on Aug. 15, 2021, but in March 2002 as we sat down to dinner on a chilly and wet night on my first post-9/11 visit to Kabul. I had known him since 1984, first as an academic colleague and then as a World Bank official. We had collaborated as informal advisors to U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during his first assignment in from 1997 to 1999, and then as part of the United Nations team in 2001, when the two of us served as Brahimi’s advisors during the Bonn Conference that set the framework for the post-Taliban government.

Soon after, Ghani had left for Kabul, where he established the Afghanistan Aid Coordination Agency, which he said would align international aid with Afghan priorities. Over dinner, he described how the Bush administration had allocated no new money for rebuilding the country, which was then devastated by (a mere!) 24 years of war. International agencies had presented gross underestimates of reconstruction costs, and their uncoordinated operations were marginalizing the destitute government. The U.N. political mission was virtually alone in pressing for the broadening of the interim administration at the upcoming Emergency Loya Jirga. Ghani became finance minister at that jirga three months later and ultimately president in 2014, only to discover that the policies that he prescribed in his book, Fixing Failed States, ignored…

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