Days after Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul, his artist daughter Mariam Ghani urged her 3,000-plus Instagram followers to sign an online petition — demanding that the US and “governments around the world” come to the rescue of refugees, including cultural workers, stuck in Afghanistan and at the mercy of the marauding Taliban.
By that time, news had already spread that her father and mother, Afghanistan’s first lady Rula Ghani, were ensconced in relative luxury in the United Arab Emirates and that her father had reportedly spirited tens of millions of dollars out of Afghanistan when they fled on Aug. 15.
“I’m angry and grieving and terribly afraid for family, friends and colleagues left behind in Afghanistan, and working feverishly to do anything I can on their behalf,” she told her followers.
Her brother Tarek, 39, who has a limited social media presence, watched the fast-moving chaos in Afghanistan from the $1.2 million Washington, DC, townhouse that he shares with his wife, Beth Pearson. They are a rising power couple in the US capital: Pearson, a Rhodes Scholar, is a senior aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Tarek, a professor of business strategy, was an advisor to Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Tarek and his sister have spent their lives connected to elites within the Democratic Party and owe their education and, in part, livelihoods to billionaire Democratic donors — the same power players who have bankrolled their father throughout his career as a technocrat at the World Bank and in leadership positions in his native Afghanistan.
Ashraf, 72, became Afghanistan’s president in 2014, but before that he raked in hundreds of thousands annually as chair of the Institute for State Effectiveness, a Washington, DC, nonprofit he co-founded in 2007. The group works to “develop integrated approaches to state building” and around 2007 received a $40 million grant from the Clinton Global Initiative, the non-profit founded by the former president.
His wife, Rula, 73, is co-chair of the Afghan Women’s Council at Georgetown University, alongside former US first ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
Ashraf’s group has also been supported by grants from the Open Society Foundations, set up by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has donated billions to liberal causes around the world.
Ahsraf’s connections to the billionaire and the Clintons opened doors for his children in elite academic and political circles, a political observer who knows the family told The Post.
“It’s all about who you know when you get to a certain level in Washington,” said Jordan Schneider, head of US operations for the non-profit Detained International, who used to work at the US embassy in Kabul in the late 1990s. “He [Ashraf Ghani] did exactly what any father would have done for his kids.”
Mariam Ghani was born in Brooklyn in 1981, while her father was pursuing post-graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University. Ashraf, who is part of the majority Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan, grew up in a well-to-do and “prominent” Afghan family and spent a year as an exchange student at a high school in Oregon. He met his wife, a Lebanese Christian, at the American University in Beirut.
After the Soviet-backed coup in Afghanistan in 1979, the couple decided to remain in exile in the US, eventually settling in a leafy middle-class Baltimore suburb where Ashraf took up a teaching position at Johns Hopkins. In 1991, he began his 11-year career at the World Bank and became a UN advisor.
At some point, Rula received a real estate license, which expired two years ago, according to public records which also show she owns a condo in DC.
The family’s Democratic party connections were cemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Ashraf’s tenure at the World Bank. That same year, Mariam, a budding artist and activist, received a grant from the Soros family to finance her studies in film and video.
A year after graduating from New York University with a degree in comparative literature in 2000, she received a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans to study photography and film at the School of Visual Arts, a Manhattan art and design college that charges more than $40,000 a year in tuition.
It’s not clear how much money Mariam — whose activist art work has focused on criminal justice reform — received from the foundation. Currently run by the widow of Paul Soros, the late shipping tycoon brother of George, the organization awards just 30 scholarships a year to immigrants or their children to pursue post-graduate work. Today, such scholarships are worth $90,000, according to the foundation’s web site.
Nine years later, Tarek received the same scholarship to pursue a Ph.D at UC, Berkeley, where he had already completed a masters in business administration in 2012. He met his wife, Beth, at the school where she worked on her own Ph.D in sociology between 2009 and 2015, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Neither Mariam nor Tarek Ghani returned The Post’s requests for comment.
From a young age, Tarek seemed determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, pursuing interests in global economics and conflict studies. While still a teenager in Baltimore, he cut his political teeth working as a researcher on Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s first run for president in the 2000 race, according to public records.
When his father became minister of finance after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Tarek took a year off from his undergraduate studies at Stanford to travel to Kabul, where he worked to help his father stabilize the country’s currency.
Mariam joined her brother in Afghanistan in 2002, when she was 24. It was the first time the siblings had traveled to their father’s country of birth.
Growing up with an Afghan father and Lebanese mother in the US, “I never think of myself as a fully entrenched insider when I’m making my work,” Mariam said in a Facebook interview.
Afghanistan has shaped much of Mariam’s work, which has been shown at such high-profile institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Gallery in London. In recent years, she has focused on an ongoing project, “Index of the Disappeared,” an installation that documents the abuse and torture of prisoners by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2015, father and daughter collaborated on a work for the Venice Biennale, “Afghanistan: A Lexicon,” which uses 100 captioned illustrations that feature “deliberate attempts to reimagine the country” over its turbulent modern history.
An earlier video reflects on the legacy of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown. At the time, she was a visiting professor at Washington University in nearby St. Louis, where she completed “The City & The City,” a film that reflected the deep divisions in the area during the protests and riots that followed Brown’s death.
Like his sister, Tarek’s focus has been on poverty and abuse of power — war, structural inequality and climate change, as well as security and strategy in the global economy, according to his Twitter profile.
Over the last two years he took a break from his teaching job at Washington University in St Louis to work as a chief economist for the International Crisis Group, a non-profit co-founded by George Soros that features Soros’s playboy son Alex on its board of directors.
In May 2016, Alex posted a photo of Tarek, Mariam and their mother, who was honored by the Asia Foundation for her work empowering women as first lady of Afghanistan, on his Facebook page. He called Tarek “one of the best friends I have.”
As deputy chair of his father’s Open Society Foundations, Alex — who hosted games of drunken hide-and-seek with models and fashion designers at his “Club Soros” Hamptons mansion — has done a great deal to support his friend. In addition to his academic post, Tarek is a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank partly funded by the Open Society Foundations.
Tarek has support from other Democratic billionaires, too, and once oversaw grants at Humanity United, a non-profit connected to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Two years ago, he worked as an advisor for national security and foreign policy in Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and has contributed articles to “Foreign Affairs” magazine, most recently about the effects of COVID-19 on the world’s poorest countries.
Although she is now a full-time professor in the film and video department at Bennington College in Vermont, Mariam called herself “a Brooklyn cliche” in a 2015 New York Times interview in which she spoke about pickling green tomatoes and her activism.
Last year, during Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, she bitterly complained about police crackdowns of protestors in New York, comparing them to police violence in Afghanistan. “So: we have a curfew, aerial surveillance, and cops in military-surplus riot gear,” she posted next to a video of a helicopter buzzing above her Brooklyn loft. “#NYC looks (and sounds) more like #Kabul all the time.”
Schneider, who has been helping desperate Afghans flee the country, said she has little patience for the Ghanis. “His [Ashraf’s] daughter will never know what her Afghan sisters are going through,” she said. “She has only ever known peace and freedom in her life.”
Additional reporting by Jon Levine