Afghanistan Wins More Financial Aid as Taliban Gets Stronger

  • Taliban ‘would do well’ to note Hekmatyar peace deal: Kerry
  • Pledges expected to total more than $3 billion a year

Leaders from more than 70 nations promised another four years of development support for Afghanistan on Wednesday, an acknowledgment that the country remains far from paying its own way as its leaders battle a resurgent Taliban and challenges such as corruption and internal political strife.

Pledges at a conference in Brussels were expected to total more than $3 billion a year through 2020, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters before the event. The official requested anonymity because the figure had not yet been publicly disclosed. If upheld, the funds committed will be slightly less than the roughly $4 billion per year that donors pledged at their last conference for Afghanistan, in Tokyo in 2012.

“There are no easy decisions in Afghanistan but I hope when history will judge, when confronted with hard choices, we made the right choices,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in his opening speech to the conference.

Leaders attending the event underscored the daunting security challenges that remain for the country as Ghani and the chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, confront Taliban forces that control more Afghan territory than at any time since 2001, according to United Nations estimates. The deteriorating security situation forced President Barack Obama this summer to walk back his pledge to withdraw all combat forces, announcing that 8,400 American troops will remain in the country through 2017.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Afghan government’s decision to sign a peace deal with warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar last month, saying the Taliban “would do well to take note.” He said the Afghan army was standing up and fighting back, taking up the task as NATO countries draw down their forces from a peak of 140,000 soldiers.

“The Taliban and their allies cannot wait us out,” Kerry said. “That is why we are here once again today. We will not abandon our Afghan friends.”

Sharing Power

U.S. officials estimate the Taliban controls territory occupied by about 10 percent of the population, with another 20 percent of the country’s 30.5 million people in contested areas. The challenge posed by the Taliban was underscored by fierce fighting that continued in the northern city of Kunduz, which fell to Taliban forces a year ago and was retaken by U.S. and Afghan forces.

The Taliban again took parts of the city on Monday but government officials said its fighters had been dislodged by Afghan forces backed up by U.S. air strikes. The group also made advances to capture two districts in the fragile Helmand province on Tuesday. The district of Nawa had been under pressure from the Taliban for a month and was taken soon after its police chief was killed.

One key question is whether leaders will be able to overcome political challenges that threaten to undo the country’s progress. After a contested 2014 election, the U.S. brokered a deal under which Ghani shares power with Abdullah, who has equal say in making government appointments. Both men attended the conference in Brussels.

Leaders sought to highlight Afghanistan’s progress: the country joined the World Trade Organization in July, more women are participating in politics, and tax collection is increasing. Ghani said the country had increased revenue by 22 percent in 2015 and met its revenue targets for 2016. Afghanistan’s leaders also insist corruption is declining and have asked donors to drop the restrictions on aid so they can spend the money as they see fit.

“The next administration in the U.S. will have a better, much more willing partner in Afghanistan to engage on issues that would mean better transparency and better governance and more efficient spending of financial contributions,” Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Hamdullah Mohib, said in an interview before the conference.

The money to be promised on Wednesday is separate from the $15 billion in security assistance agreed at a NATO summit in Warsaw earlier this year.

“The gains made in recent years are indisputable but they are also fragile,” Kerry said. “Collectively, we have a responsibility to ensure the positive changes not only continue, but that they become permanent.”

— With assistance by Eltaf Najafizada

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