Foreign aid to Afghanistan could reach $12bn over four years, some with conditions

US pledges $300 million, says another $300 million is conditional

epa08839398 Families who fled their villages after Taliban launched massive attacks in different districts of Helmand province, live in temporary shelters in provincial capital Lashkargah, Helmand, Afghanistan, 24 November 2020.  Violence has surged across the country in recent weeks, despite the Afghan government and the Taliban committing to be on the defensive to help the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks that are underway in Doha for over a month.  EPA/WATAN YAR
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Foreign donors at a conference on Tuesday pledged a projected $12 billion in civilian aid to Afghanistan over the next four years, but many made it conditional on protecting human rights and making progress on peace talks in a major shake-up for the country's economy.

Ville Skinnari, Finland's minister for development co-operation and foreign trade whose government co-organised the conference, said donors had pledged $3bn for next year, with annual commitments expected to continue at about the same level through to 2024. "This would amount to $12 billion," he said.

That preliminary figure was a drop from $15.2bn pledged in 2016 for four years, despite coming at a time when Afghanistan's needs are growing because of increasing violence and the coronavirus pandemic.

Many donors also put strict conditions on future funding and some officially committed for only the next year. Diplomats said keeping financing for Afghanistan on a tight leash could provide foreign governments with some leverage to inject a greater sense of urgency into a halting peace process.

The US said it had pledged $300 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan next year and would make available another $300m based on progress in peace talks.

"We stand ready to support Afghanistan and to that end we've made available $600 million for civilian assistance needs in 2021. We're pleased to pledge today $300 million of that money with the remaining $300 million available as we review progress in the peace process," US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale told the conference in Geneva.

The US has contributed about $800m a year in civilian aid in recent years.

Another top donor, Germany, pledged €430m ($510.88m) in 2021 and signalled it would keep contributing until 2024 but also stressed that progress towards ending almost 20 years of war was needed.

Talks in the Qatari capital Doha between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents began in September but have been mired in procedural wrangling as violence surged around the country.

But Mr Hale said "significant progress" had recently been made, including a tentative agreement on ground rules that could allow negotiators to proceed to the next stage of forming an agenda.

Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Atmar said the "legal basis" for talks was one issue that still had not been resolved, although he expected progress soon. Officials previously told Reuters the main dispute is over whether a February US-Taliban agreement should form the basis of talks.

As the donors conference proceeded, two explosions rocked an outdoor market in the central province of Bamiyan, usually considered one of Afghanistan's safest areas, killing at least 14 people and wounding 45, mostly civilians.


During the lead-up to the quadrennial donors conference, diplomats reckoned Afghanistan could receive 15 per cent to 20 per cent less funding than at the last conference in 2016 owing to uncertainties over the peace process and difficulties securing commitments from governments financially strapped by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Afghan government welcomed the result with Mr Atmar calling it a success and saying the strict conditions would help to focus peace negotiations.

But economists and some diplomats were concerned, saying even in the best-case scenario, the amount would only just stretch to maintain basic public services at a time of dire need.

"Conditionalising the aid on the peace process means that it is being used as a political instrument," said Omar Joya, chief economist at the Biruni Institute in Kabul. "We suggest that the donors make all efforts to ensure aid predictability for the next four years so that basic public services such as health and education are delivered uninterrupted at a critical time."

Uncertainty over whether the compromises needed for peace might lead to backsliding on human and women's rights has added to some countries' wariness about making long-term commitments to an Afghan administration that needs foreign money to cover about three quarters of its spending.

The European Union pledged 1.2bn ($1.43 billion) over four years but emphasised aid was conditional.

"Afghanistan's future trajectory must preserve the democratic and human rights gains since 2001," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

"Any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement," he said, referring to the Taliban's previous hardline Islamist rule.