He has worked extensively in international economics, and holds a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001 until December 2004, he served as Finance Minister until he chose not to join the new elected Government. While in the interim government, October 2001 and June 2002, Ashraf Ghani served as Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi in the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; Chief Advisor to Chairman Hamid Karzai and Executive Director of the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority. Earlier, he had been involved in the 2001 Bonn Peace Agreement that selected Karzai.
Early in his career, he was on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at Berkeley Universities before joining the World Bank, where, as an anthropologist, he led work on country strategies and policies; he remains on the adjunct faculty at Hopkins. He speaks Pashto, Dari, English, French and Arabic. He has written on failed states.
He was not involved in the Afghanistan War (1978-92), returning to Afghanistan in 2001, giving him strong Western support but much less Afghan recognition. According to polls, however, Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah are ahead. He is the most technically qualified, but, again, that is managerial rather than political. Ghani is seen as more of a strong candidate for Western views.  "Charisma is a quality Ghani lacks. And, in a wartime election, that PhD from Columbia means squat to most Afghans. Yet the "management style" that Ghani offers as a president-cum-CEO might be just what Afghanistan needs most at this crucial time, if he can get voters beyond his core entrepreneurial constituency to listen up."
As Afghanistan's Finance Minister in 2003 he was awarded Asia's Best Finance Minister of the Year and the Sayed Jamal-ud-Din Afghani medal. He prepare the first national budget and aid requests.
After leaving government
He is now Chairman and co-founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness, and was Chancellor of Kabul University. Until recently, he was a nonresident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution. He is on the Commission on the UN High-Level Panel on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, IDEA, the Atlantic Council, and the World Justice Project of the American Bar Association.
In 2006, Hamid Karzai nominated him for UN Secretary General and was endorsed by the Wall Street Journal. In 2007, he was also endorsed by the New York Times for the post of President of the World Bank. In 2008, he was awarded the Dr Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award by Tufts University.
He proposes major reforms to minimize corruption, including financial disclosure, and eventually the replacement of many current government workers with younger Afghans. While the United States has not endorsed a candidate, he is known to be highly acceptable, and has already been offered a position, which he declined, of Chief Executive Officer under Karzai; he has said he will consider that if he does not win. 
Finance being his strong suit, he proposes a number of steps to rebuild the economy. With 53% unemployment among young men, he proposes a military draft, to keep them away from the Taliban, build Afghan security forces, and to pay them. He also is emphatic that while Afghanistan is receiving billions in aid money, it is going to foreigners rather to Afghans. We have the money but we don't have the capital," says Ghani. "Sixteen billion dollars in capital has been flown to Gulf countries." His proposals would put 80 per cent of international aid in Afghan hands. "The black money needs to be changed to white. Until we are able to launder the black money, we will not succeed."
He gives an example that Afghans rugs that are prized the world over, but the trade is controled in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. 80 per cent of construction contracts, says Ghani, are awarded to foreign interests, with Afghans providing only low-level labor that develops no capacity. "I cannot accept that we do not have construction capacity of our own. There is an economic mafia that we have to fight. We need to replace it with a legitimate economy. This is not rocket science.
His reconstruction proposal makes business, but not political, sense. It would start in eight stable northern provinces, creating economic "clusters" that would merge, eventually flowing into the at-risk south and east. This, however, displeases southern interests that are not receiving construction funds. 
- Rachel Morarjee (14 August 2009), "Ashraf Ghani: the technocratic candidate", Financial Times
- Rosie DiManno (11 August 2009), "Ashraf Ghani's vision impresses, but most of electorate can't read, let alone crunch numbers", Toronto Star
- Joshua Partlow (15 August 2009), "Afghan Hopeful Has Penchant for Details: Presidential Candidate Offers Slew of Proposals to Combat Official Corruption", Washington Post Foreign Service