Donors pledge $12 billion for Afghanistan, but under strict conditions
International donors pledged Afghanistan a projected $12 billion in aid over a four-year cycle at a virtual conference hosted in Geneva on Tuesday, but many lay down strict human rights safeguards and progress on peace talks as conditions for securing the funds.
Donors committed $3 billion for 2021 and the amount was expected to remain stable annually through to 2024, said Ville Skinnari, Finland's minister for development cooperation and foreign trade, whose government co-organised the conference.
The funds - a drop on the amount pledged in the last aid conference on Afghanistan - came with strict caveats from donors, and some committed only for next year.
The US, for example, pledged $300 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan for 2020 but said another $300 would be made available based on progress in ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks held in Doha.
Germany, another top donor, pledged 430 million euros for 2021 and said it would continue contributing until 2024 – the end of Afghanistan's so-called 'Transformation Decade'.
However, Berlin stressed that "progress" was need to end the country's nearly 20 year-long war.
The EU for its part pledged 1.2 billion over four years but emphasised aid was conditional on containing the Taliban, amid fears that government compromises for peace could lead to vital progress on human and women's rights issues being undone.
"Afghanistan's future trajectory must preserve the democratic and human rights gains since 2001," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, Reuters reported.
"Any attempts to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement," he added, referring to the Taliban's hardline Islamist rule between the years 1995 and 2001.
Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban began in September but have been mired in procedural wrangling as violence rages throughout the country.
"Signicant progress" had been made recently, claimed US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, who attended the donor conference via video link.
He said this included a preliminary agreement on ground rules allowing negotiators to proceed to the next stage of forming an agenda.
Afganistan's Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar however, said the "legal basis" for talks had not yet been resolved, though he expected progress soon.
As the donor's conference proceeded, two explosions tore through an outdoor market in the central province of Bamyan, usually considered a safe haven in Afghanistan, killing at least 14 people and wounding 45.
The funds pledged match the upper end of 15-20 percent cut predicted by diplomats on the amount pledged in the 2016 donor conference on Afghanistan, which stood at $15.2 billion.
Read more: Afghanistan conference to set aid cuts, conditions amid war, pandemic
The fall is largely the result of uncertainties over the peace process and difficulties securing commitments from a government reeling from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Diplomats say that keeping aid financing on a tight leash could provide foreign governments with leverage to galvanise the halting peace process.
The Afghan government agrees: Foreign Minister Atmar said strict conditions would help focus peace talks.
Yet economists and some diplomats are worried that even in the best-case scenario, the reduced amount would barely cover basic public services, at a time when Covid-19 and rising violence are increasing Afghanistan's needs.