International donors pledge Afghanistan aid with strict conditions attached

Switzerland's Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis (left) talks with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar (right) at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, November 24, 2020. Credit: Keystone / Valentin Flauraud

International donors including Switzerland, the European Union and the United States have pledged billions in new funds for Afghanistan over the next four years to foster peace and stability in the country.

As Afghanistan experiences escalating conflict, worsening socioeconomic conditions and braces itself for a second wave of Covid-19 infections, representatives from nearly 100 countries and international groups met at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference on Tuesday, co-hosted by Finland and the United Nations in Geneva ( UNOG).

Taking place for the first time since 2016, members of the international community met largely virtually to renew pledges to the aid-reliant country. There had been widespread concern that “donor fatigue” and an overstretched global aid system during the pandemic could lead to a drop in financial commitments, with the United States - Afghanistan’s largest donor - indicating before the conference it could make substantial cuts.

Other major donors had also indicated that their contributions would be conditional on Afghanistan adhering to certain terms including an immediate ceasefire, as the Taliban step-up attacks in the country despite ongoing peace talks that have been underway in Doha since September.

What was pledged? Speaking at a press conference at the Palais des Nations on Tuesday evening, officials said donors had pledged more than $3bn for the next year. This would bring the rough estimate to around $12bn for the four years if annual commitments stayed the same each year, which is $2bn less overall than the $15bn pledged for the four years prior.

Many donors including the EU and the US attached conditions to their pledges, agreeing that they would be renewed year-on-year providing Afghanistan remained committed to upholding democracy, human rights, anti-corruption measures and gender equality .

“For the first time, the government of Afghanistan and the development partners agreed on a set of principles underpinning the cooperation,” said Ville Skinnari, Finland’s minister for development, cooperation and foreign trade, speaking at the press conference. “Respect for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and gender equality are prerequisite for key future cooperation.”

“Afghanistan’s future trajectory must preserve the democratic and human rights gains since 2001, most notably as regards women’s and children’s rights,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

Switzerland's contribution will amount to CHF104 million over the next four years, with Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis stating that the aid was conditional on a “clear development plan” from the Afghanistan government.

Support conditional on peace. The US also emphasised that the progress of the peace negotiations in Doha would affect the “size and scope” of its support in the coming years. Participants in the conference also called for an “immediate, permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” in the country.

“The pledges provided and the decisions adopted here in Geneva, taken together with the peace talks underway now, are mutually reinforcing signs that not only is peace possible, but it is supported by the global community and it will…set the foundation that the young Afghan boys and girls so long for and so deserve,” said Deborah Lyons, special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Why is this important? Lyons said that donors had shown themselves to be “determined to provide...the necessary political financial and technical support to the people of Afghanistan. ”

“But I want to also say that this does not come freely,” she added. “It comes with conditions. It comes with concerns that the violence must be reduced, that a ceasefire must be achieved, that the peace talks must progress, and must demonstrate progress in a timely manner ... and also that the choices made in the peace talks may overtime influence the ongoing commitment.”

Speaking at the press conference, Mohammad Haneef Atmar, Afghanistan's foreign minister, said he welcomed “the conditionality to link the assistance to progress, specifically on the peace process.”

“The government of Afghanistan has every intention to make that progress, and not just to receive the international assistance, but to respond positively to the expectations of our people, and we hope that the Taliban will be able to demonstrate a similar commitment and willing,” he said.

“This was a unique conference in many ways under very difficult circumstances,” continued Atmar. “The coronavirus certainly affected the way we do business, but it did not affect the solidarity, the strong political will of the international community, and their friendship and partnership with the people of Afghanistan.”

“Covid-19 might have affected the economies of our international partners, but not their generosity, and not their ability to support.”