For Afghanistan Already on Brink, U.S. Help Lower Is a Massive Shove

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KABUL, Afghanistan – When President Trump repeatedly expressed his tiredness over the long war in Afghanistan, the heads of state and government in Kabul were not concerned that the US would pull out troops from the United States Afghanistan, but that it would cut vital funds.

On Tuesday, a day after a frustrated American official announced immediate $ 1 billion cuts in aid and threatened to cut another $ 1 billion the next year, President Ashraf Ghani put on a bold face.

Addressing the nation, Mr. Ghani said that his government had contingency plans and that cuts in aid would not affect key functions.

But privately several of his senior officials, legislators and economists expressed deep concern.

The United States cut aid because Afghan leaders could not resolve a political dead end that could derail an American plan for e And the long conflict.

But Afghans now fear that the decision could push the country, which is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid, past the turning point. They believe that this could lead to the dissolution of an already challenged government and the collapse of a tired and overburdened security force.

Afghanistan uses foreign aid not only to pay the basic costs, but also for its war against the resurgent Taliban. Mr. Ghani said that if the United States cut funds, his army would not take longer than six months. At the end of the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, the Afghan-backed Afghan government collapsed when money ran out.

“The fighting continues daily in 10 to 16 provinces. More than 50 percent of our population is below the poverty line and we largely rely on international aid, ”said Shahgul Rezai, a member of the Afghan parliament. "Afghanistan may not survive the reduction."

Now the country is facing not only the shock of an abrupt cut in funds, but also several other crises – a divided government, the raging war with the Taliban and the spread of the coronavirus – it is on the brink brought.

On Tuesday the Afghan Minister of Health said the corona virus could infect up to 80 percent of the population. The US-led NATO military mission said four of its members had tested positive and 1,500 were screened.

Months of political tension that led to a divided government in which two men declared themselves presidents have tested the boundaries of unity among the Afghan armed forces, which have already been exhausted by a bloody struggle with the Taliban. Some officials fear that there will be cracks in the force, the construction of which has cost the United States around $ 90 billion alone.

"The reduction will affect not only US aid, but also the Afghan military is heavily dependent on US aid," said Abdul Qader Qalatwal, another legislator. "If they don't get the support they need, there can be factions within the army that can even lead to the division of Afghanistan."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the cuts after the last one. Digging, failed negotiations between the two rival Afghan leaders, provided no details about which aid sectors would be affected. Given the amount, however, this would inevitably limit the funding of the Afghan armed forces.

The United States provides approximately $ 4 billion in security and $ 500 million in civilian aid each year. Around 75 percent of Afghanistan's public spending depends on international donations each year.

Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, tried to reassure Afghan security leaders about the US government's commitment. He urged neutrality for the security forces – a role that he repeatedly played during the political crisis.

"We will let politics regulate it ourselves," said General Miller in a video conference with the Afghan security leader. "We know that we will overcome the political difficulties."

Mr. Pompeo arrived in Kabul on Tuesday and traveled halfway around the world during the coronavirus crisis to see if he could get through the weeks of diplomacy that his special representative had not managed on site. President Ghani's victory, which was declared a second term winner last fall, is questioned by his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also claimed the presidency.

Political instability was a hallmark of America's presence in Afghanistan, often undermining both war and development efforts. Three of the four elections since the US invasion are so controversial that American intervention is required.

When Mr. Ghani pushed for elections last September when the United States was just entering into an agreement with the US Many Taliban feared that a political crisis over the results would be inevitable and could tear the country apart before the government broke the Taliban ever sat opposite.

Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah were also involved in an election dispute in 2014 when Secretary of State John Kerry spent several days in Kabul to negotiate a coalition government that made Mr. Ghani President and Mr. Abdullah Director General of the government .

When the electoral commission declared Mr. Ghani the winner last month and Mr. Abdullah immediately cried badly, the United States held back for almost two weeks to recognize Mr. Ghani's victory. She hopes to use formal recognition as a lever to bring the two leaders into a unified government and shift focus to the deadlocked peace process.

But the two men could not reach an agreement.

Mr. Abdullah, who says that Mr. Ghani has accelerated the voting process and won unfairly by a small margin, was ready to accept a version of the coalition government that resembles that negotiated after 2014, as long as the 2019 election results were canceled and Mr. Ghani Die's Legitimacy as president was based on political understanding.

Mr. Ghani, on the other hand, was ready to give Mr. Abdullah a role in the peace process and in the positions of his allies in the cabinet. But he was determined not to repeat the failed experiment of 2014 in the double-headed government.

Mr. Ghani continued his inauguration in a sign of strength, as his close circle had advised him, according to two senior officials. This prompted Mr. Abdullah to dedicate himself as well.

When Mr. Pompeo arrived, the knot had become too complicated to untie.

A senior State Department official commented on reporters Before Mr. Pompeo embarked on an eight-hour journey between the two leaders, he made it clear that the Foreign Minister had issued a stern warning of the consequences if the two rivals did not get together .

They didn't. t.

"The United States is disappointed with them and what their behavior means for Afghanistan and our common interests," said Pompeo in a harsh statement shortly after he left Afghanistan, announcing aid cuts. "Their failure has damaged relations between the United States and Afghanistan and, unfortunately, dishonors those Afghans, Americans and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasures in the struggle for a new future for this country."

Laurel Miller The director of the International Crisis Group's Asia program and a former US diplomat who dealt with Afghanistan said that US governments have historically hesitated to use aid as a lever because their strategy of Survival and success depend on the Afghan government.

"Huge cuts in aid would mean that the US no longer sees government survival as necessary to protect US interests," said Ms. Miller.

A senior Afghan official said the failure of the United States The unification of the factions surrounding the peace process had opened up a promising perspective: many of Afghanistan's political factions may be positioning themselves for new alliances after America's exit, Rivals like Russia or Iran.

Several senior Afghan officials admitted that the political crisis between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah had taken place at a time when the United States was already announcing its gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, only benefiting from the Taliban in the starting blocks were waiting.

That a disappointed Mr. Pompeo flew from Kabul to Qatar and met with the Taliban deputy leader intensified the American focus on not allowing the Afghan political crisis to derail the war. The MP, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, met with Mr. Pompeo in a Qatari corner of a military base that shares the host country with the United States.

Statements from both sides stated that the troop withdrawal was going according to plan

Fahim Abed contributed to the reporting.

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