UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi has urged the international community to remain committed to Afghanistan, calling for greater support for refugees and internally displaced people ahead of the opening of a two-day international donor conference.
The UNHCR chief said on Monday that the future of millions of Afghans depends on the outcome of peace negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban being held in the Qatari capital Doha and on the international community’s commitment to developing the war-torn country.
“Failure on either account would see Afghanistan slide backwards with disastrous consequences, including further displacement possibly on a large scale,” Grandi warned in a statement before the 2020 Afghanistan Conference.
Grandi’s appeal comes after his visit to the South Asian nation, which is struggling with growing violence, a US troop withdrawal and flagging peace talks pushed by the outgoing Trump administration.
Analysts say the partial US troop withdrawal the Trump administration announced this week is further weakening the Kabul government during the ongoing peace talks in Doha.
Despite a February agreement signed between Taliban and the US, violence has risen in the country, with Grandi saying nearly 300,000 Afghans who have been displaced inside the country by conflict this year remain in “acute need” of humanitarian support.
Afghanistan faces aid cut
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that some international donors are considering cutting aid to Afghanistan and imposing tighter restrictions on vital aid money amid the dual crises of war and COVID-19.
Afghanistan’s economy is set to contract by at least 5.5 percent this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, stated the World Bank in a recent report.
The nearly three million previously displaced and the nine million people who have lost their livelihoods due to the COVID-19 crisis are also in need of help.
Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organisations are expected to pledge billions of dollars to safeguard development projects, at the virtual conference hosted in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday.
Although the fragile economy depends heavily on foreign aid, Kabul will see cuts in donations and donors will introduce stringent political and human rights conditions on the money, five participants told the Reuters news agency.
The strategy aims to protect the peace talks and prod the Afghan government to improve allocation, they said.
Donors at the last conference, in Brussels in 2016, pledged $15.2bn for 2017 to 2020, or $3.8bn a year.
That could be cut by 15 percent to 20 percent, said a senior Western diplomat who was attending the conference.
“This is the best countries can offer amid the domestic challenge of managing a pandemic.”
Withdrawal of US troops
Trump will cut US forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 from 4,500 by mid-January, the Pentagon said last week, seeking to wind down the US’s longest war. The withdrawal of foreign forces – Britain plans to follow the US’s lead – could mean greater scope for the Taliban to expand its influence.
The peace talks in the Qatari capital have faltered and the Taliban refuses to call a ceasefire, launching attacks that have at times prompted the US to launch air raids to protect urban areas.
But senior diplomats told Reuters that a breakthrough was expected in the peace talks after the donor conference.
“Taliban and Afghan government representatives will take a break from the peace talks after the Geneva conference but not before they have a joint declaration of agreement over key security issues,” said a senior Western official.
At the Geneva meeting, the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will present a peace and development framework meant to allocate funds to key projects, safeguard millions of jobs and protect democratic institutions.
“The conference will remain focused on making Afghanistan self-reliant by the end of its transformation decade which is 2024,” Naser Sidiqee, a senior official of the Afghan finance ministry, said in Geneva last week.
The Taliban is not invited to the conference but the armed group have urged donors to continue their humanitarian assistance while accusing Ghani’s government of pocketing the aid money.
“We request the international community and organisations to deliver aid, collected in the name of the people, to the people,” the armed group said in a statement.