WASHINGTON, March 23, 2020 — The U.S. is getting ready to cut aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion and are threatening to cut even more unless the rival political leaders can set aside their differences and form a government that can finalize a peace deal with the Taliban.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement on Monday, after trying to end the dispute between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who are disputing the results of the presidential election last fall. Pompeo then met with a Taliban representative in Qatar.
In a statement, Pompeo said Ghani and Abdullah had informed him that they were “unable to agree on an inclusive government” despite what the chief U.S. diplomat described as an urgent need for one.
“The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests,” Pompeo said, adding that “this leadership failure poses a direct threat to U.S. national interests.”
The announced aid cuts may appear harsh, given how much Afghanistan continues to rely on U.S. assistance since American troops overthrew the Taliban regime there following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But in many ways, the cuts are part of a pattern for the administration of President Donald Trump: It relies more on sticks than carrots, and it has been willing to impose sanctions, tariffs and other penalties on allies as well as adversaries in pursuit of what it says is the U.S. interest.
In Trump’s view, and that of a growing, bipartisan crowd in Washington, the U.S. interest includes withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.
Pompeo added that “the U.S. government will initiate a review of the scope of our cooperation with Afghanistan.” Aside from the initial $1 billion aid cut, “we are prepared to reduce by another $1 billion in 2021,” he said.
Five months after the voting took place, Ghani was declared the winner of the September presidential election. But Abdullah alleged there was major fraud in the polls and has been unwilling to concede. Abdullah has started trying to form a parallel government. He also has the backing of some ethnic militia leaders.
“We have made clear to the leadership that we will not back security operations that are politically motivated, nor support political leaders who order such operations or those who advocate for or support parallel government,” Pompeo said.
The Afghan political infighting has complicated U.S. efforts to start implementing a peace agreement with the Taliban reached in late February.
The deal envisions a U.S. troop pullout in tandem with the Taliban meeting certain conditions. Those conditions include Taliban talks with the Afghan government and upholding a promise not to let terrorist groups use Afghan soil to plot external terrorist attacks.
But Afghan officials, including Ghani, have long been skeptical of the U.S. talks with the Taliban, and have been frustrated at being left out through much of the process. They’re particularly angry over provisions in the deal that require the release of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Pompeo chided Ghani and Abdullah for “failing to establish an inclusive national team to participate in intra-Afghan negotiations or take practical steps to facilitate prisoner releases by both sides as a confidence-building measure to reach a political settlement and achieve a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
He also noted that the U.S. was still “proceeding with the conditions-based withdrawal of our forces in accordance with the U.S.-Taliban agreement.”
Pompeo also offered some salve for the wound, saying the United States may “revisit the reviews initiated today” if the Afghan leaders come to a political agreement.
He further insisted that the U.S. isn’t fully abandoning its partnership with Kabul, noting that, for instance, it plans to give $15 million to help Afghanistan combat the coronavirus pandemic.
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