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U.S. Watchdog Warns Further Aid Cuts Could Trigger Afghan Government Collapse

Afghans wait to receive cash distributed through an aid program in the Pachiragam Khogyani district of Nangarhar Province. (file photo)

A further cut in international aid could cause the government in Afghanistan to collapse and return the country to chaos similar to the 1990s, a U.S. government watchdog has warned.

The warning on March 16 by John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, comes amid efforts by the United States, Russia, and other countries to restart stalled Afghan peace talks and President Joe Biden faces a May 1 deadline for withdrawing all remaining U.S. troops.

“Eighty percent of Afghanistan’s budget is funded by the U.S. and the (other international) donors,” Sopko said in a Reuters interview. “If, for whatever reason, the donors keep drawing down funding ... that could bring the sudden demise of the Afghan government as we know it.”

He warned of “history repeating itself,” referring to the unrest and chaos that plagued Afghanistan after the Soviet Union ended its 1979-89 occupation and cut its assistance to the Kabul government. That instability paved the way for the Taliban’s takeover.

International annual development aid to Afghanistan has decreased from a high of $6.7 billion in 2011, hitting $4.2 billion in 2019, according to World Bank data.

Sopko is due to testify on March 16 before the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee on his latest report.

The report noted that donors at a November conference pledged at least $3.3 billion in civilian assistance for a year. If their annual commitments remain at that level until 2024, funding would be 15 percent below 2016 pledges, it said.

The United States, which has been steadily reducing aid for Afghanistan, pledged as much as $600 million for a year, but made half contingent on progress in the peace talks between the Taliban and a delegation that includes government officials.

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on March 15.

A spokesman for Ghani said Khalilzad had updated the Afghan president on his recent diplomatic trips to Pakistan and to Qatar, where peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives began in September.

The talks in Doha have stalled in recent months, with no tangible progress.

With reporting by Reuters
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