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Afghans are 'no different from any American'

Dr. Ashraf Ghani, the chairman of Afghanistan's Transition Coordination Commission, discusses the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship.

KABUL, Afghanistan – The hopes of a whole nation are riding on the shoulders of Dr. Ashraf Ghani. 

As chairman of Afghanistan’s Transition Coordination Commission, his mission is to ease his country fully back into Afghan hands as the United States and its allies finish their withdrawal by the end of 2014.

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If that sounds like a daunting task, it is. Some have already said that the mission is doomed for failure. 

But after listening to a few minutes of Ghani’s plans and vision, it’s hard not to believe that the war-ravaged country will one day rise from the rubble and become a key leader in the region. 

Cautioning that the process will take time, Ghani says that Afghanistan will still need the assistance of the United States.

“American diplomacy is going to be indispensable,” he said during a recent interview in his home in Kabul.  “The type of diplomatic imagination that created stability in Europe after World War II and then in East Asia … is going to be required. Because our problems are not national, they’re regional and global.”

Preparing for US withdrawal 
Ghani, 63, left Afghanistan in 1977 to pursue a master’s degree at New York’s Columbia University. Due to the uncertainty in Afghanistan starting with the war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s and then during the Taliban’s regime, he ended up staying in the U.S. for 24 years, even becoming an American citizen. But after the fall of the Taliban, he returned to Afghanistan in December 2001 to become the chief adviser to President Hamid Karzai.

 “[America] is a place where I was educated and taught.  So it brings memories and networks of friendship,” he said. “Some of my best years were in the United States.”  

Ghani gave up his American citizenship in 2009 to run in Afghanistan’s presidential elections. Although he says he has had the opportunity to reclaim his U.S. citizenship, he says he has declined. “America is not my home; Afghanistan is,” he said. 

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As the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, Ghani believes that if Washington fails to continue supporting Afghanistan, it will have tragic global consequences.

He says he has a great deal of respect and gratitude for American generosity and sacrifice when it comes to Afghanistan, but believes many mistakes were made and potential lost because of the lack of U.S. understanding of Afghan needs.  He also believes that Afghanistan was neglected after the invasion of Iraq, which he calls a conscious decision that took “so much of the oxygen and resources away from the Afghan war.”

Contractors and the private sector have been another major problem, according to Ghani.  He blames some of America’s mistakes on the outsourcing of government functions to contractors without proper government oversight and supervision, leading to the loss and misuse of billions of dollars in funding and U.S. taxpayer money.

“Afghanistan of the next two years cannot be treated from the perspective of the Beltway in Washington where private contractors, both civil and military, predominate,” he says. 

Afghans are ‘no different from any American’
In addition, he believes there is a disconnect when it comes to the American people’s perception of Afghanistan.   

“We are not succeeding in making our case to the American public,” he said. “The majority of Afghans are decent, hard-working and in terms of what they want in life, they’re no different from any American. They want education for their children.  They want the ability [to access] … necessities. And they would like to live without violence hanging over them.”

Ghani said that Afghans embraced America “whole-heartedly” in 2001 because they believed the United States would help end violence, poverty and the abuse of power in the bruised nation. 

“If dislike has grown [among Afghans] it is because they have seen lack of movement towards the goals that they thought were shared values,” he said

But he believes that most Afghans still know that they need the help of the United States.

“Ordinary people of this country see the partnership with the United States as absolutely indispensable to our future security and in stability,” he said.

This story is part of a series by msnbc.com and NBC News "What the World Thinks of US". The series aims to check the pulse on current perceptions of America's global stature during the election year and ahead of our annual Independence Day.

Share your thoughts about this story and our series on Twitter using #AmericaMeans '

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