Further cuts in aid to Afghanistan by the United States and other donors could cause the government to collapse and return the country to chaos similar to what it lived through in the 1990s, a US government watchdog says.
The warning by John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, on Monday came as the US, Russia and other countries strive to revive stalled Afghan peace talks and President Joe Biden faces a May 1 deadline for withdrawing all remaining US troops in the country.
“Eighty percent of Afghanistan’s budget is funded by the US and the (other international) donors,” Sopko said in an interview with Reuters news agency.
“If, for whatever reason, the donors keep drawing down funding … that could bring the sudden demise of the Afghan government as we know it.”
He warned of “history repeating itself,” referring to the crisis in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union ended its 1979-1989 occupation and cut its assistance to the Kabul government.
The chaos paved the way for the Taliban’s takeover. The group provided Osama bin Laden with the sanctuary in which al-Qaeda planned the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. The subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan ended the Taliban’s rule.
International annual development aid to Afghanistan has decreased from a high of $6.7bn in 2011, hitting $4.2bn in 2019, according to World Bank data.
Sopko testifies on Tuesday before the US House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee on his latest report.
The report noted that donors at a November conference pledged at least $3.3bn in civilian assistance for a year. If their annual commitments remain at that level until 2024, funding would be 15 percent below 2016 pledges, it said.
The US, which has steadily been reducing aid for Afghanistan, pledged as much as $600m for a year, but made half contingent on progress in the peace talks between the Taliban and a delegation that includes government officials.
If the funding disappears, Sopko said the Afghan government would be hard-pressed to fight on and succeed against the Taliban and other hardliners in the absence of a peace deal.
If a peace pact is reached, he noted that the World Bank found the country would need a further $5.2bn in civilian aid through 2024 to sustain peace.
“Even the Taliban recognises they really need foreign support,” he said. “Without it, the government falls.”