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Donors Tie Future Afghanistan Aid to Strict Conditions

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons delivers a statement during the 2020 Afghanistan donor conference hosted by the United Nations in Geneva on Nov. 24, 2020.

Donor countries have tied Afghanistan’s future civilian financial aid of $3 billion a year for four years to strict conditions, including maintaining human rights, improving governance and reducing corruption.

“Afghanistan and the international community have entered a new and very disciplined phase of their long-standing partnership,” said Deborah Lyons, the United Nations secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, at a two-day donor conference that ended Tuesday in Geneva.

The new cooperation, she added, will be underlined by conditionality and a tough, yearly, review mechanism.

Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and Special Representative of the Secretary General of the U.N. for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons wear masks prior to the plenary session of the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva, Nov. 24, 2020.
Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and Special Representative of the Secretary General of the U.N. for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons wear masks prior to the plenary session of the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva, Nov. 24, 2020.

The conference, attended by more than 90 delegations representing countries and international aid agencies, also adopted a unanimous political communique which “calls first and foremost for an immediate, permanent, and comprehensive cease-fire,” Lyons said.

Similar calls for a cease-fire have been ignored by the Taliban for months. The U.N., NATO, and others say the Taliban has raised the level of violence to a 10-year high since it signed a deal with the United States in February.

Calls to maintain human rights, in particular the rights of women, and to tackle corruption were repeated throughout the plenary session.

“The EU (European Union) support will be maintained or reviewed depending on Afghanistan’s continued commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and gender equality,” said Jutta Urpilainen, the EU commissioner for international partnerships. For now, the EU has maintained its current level of assistance by pledging $1.4 billion over the next four year.

The EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles, also warned against trying to impose a 1990s-style Taliban rule at a time when an Afghan government team is negotiating with the militant group to end decades of conflict through a political settlement.

“As the United Nations Security Council said, any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement,” Borrell said.

While promising $270 million over the next three years, Canada also linked its aid to maintaining gains made in the last 19 years.

“Canada will monitor developments at the negotiating table with great interest and calibrate our contributions accordingly,” said Karina Gould, the Canadian minister of international development.

Many activists in Afghanistan say they fear that a Taliban return to power, even through a political settlement, might erode many of the rights Afghans have come to enjoy since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Many in Afghanistan remember the Taliban rule in the 1990s as brutal, when women were denied the right to education, minorities suffered discrimination and violence, and harsh punishments like public flogging were common.

The Netherlands said its contribution of up to $237 million in the next four years was not a “carte blanche” and that it expected corruption to be tackled “efficiently” and women’s rights to be upheld.

Denmark said its support comes with “clear expectations” of tackling corruption, making women part of decision-making processes, and upholding human rights and the rule of law.

“Progress made must be maintained and further advanced,” said Jeppe Kofod, Denmark’s minister of foreign affairs.

The quadrennial conference, the sixth of its kind, is the last one of what was labeled Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade. The 10-year period from 2015 to the end of 2024 was supposed to end in a self-reliant country.

Instead, three-fourths of the country’s public spending still depends on foreign aid. According to the World Bank, the Afghan economy is expected to contract by more than 5 percent in 2020 due to the global pandemic fueled by the novel coronavirus.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, along with Finland and Afghanistan, co-hosted the conference. The coronavirus pandemic forced most of the activity online, with only representatives of the hosts present in the conference hall in person. Most statements were made virtually.

The last donor conference was held in 2016 in Brussels and before that in Tokyo in 2012.

Although the amount pledged this year was much less than the $15.2 billion pledged in Brussels, it was still far higher than many expected.

Lyons called it “beyond our expectations” and a “global hug” to the war-torn country but added, “Even a hug has conditions and consequences.”