U.S. To Cut Afghan Aid Over Failed Effort To Form Unity Government
NOEL KING, HOST:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. will cut a billion dollars in U.S. aid to Afghanistan. Why? Well, the U.S. is frustrated that two men are claiming to be Afghanistan's President. Ashraf Ghani was officially declared the winner last month. But his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, says there was voter fraud and that he's the winner. Now their fight has jeopardized the prospects of a U.S.-brokered peace deal between the Afghan central government and the Taliban.
I'm on the line now with Laurel Miller. She's director of the International Crisis Group's Asia program, and before that, she served as the deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department. Good morning.
LAUREL MILLER: Good morning.
KING: Let's get right to the heart of this. Why is it a problem for the United States that two men are claiming to be the rightful president of Afghanistan?
MILLER: The main problem for the United States right now is that U.S. policy is focused on trying to get a peace process in Afghanistan launched, a peace process that would enable the U.S. to pull its troops out of the country. And this dispute between these two contestants for the presidency is now tangled up with the peace process. It is inhibiting their ability to put together a negotiating team to sit across the table from the Taliban. The U.S. and Taliban signed a preliminary deal on February 29 that had called for those Afghan peace talks to start on March 10. That date has come and gone, in part - in large part because of this inability to form a negotiating team.
KING: So when the U.S. negotiated the peace deal with the Taliban - which our listeners will remember - we covered that a great deal at the time - part of the agreement was the Afghan government is not privy to these talks yet. And we're going to - the U.S. and the Taliban are going to seal the deal. But then the Afghan government will come in, and then they will talk to the Taliban. And then it will get done. And what you're saying is it's not getting done.
MILLER: Exactly. It was intended to be a sequenced process. First, the U.S.-Taliban talks that would focus on the question of a phased U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a military withdrawal from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban commitments not to allow Afghanistan to be a safe harbor for terrorist groups in the future. And importantly, though, that agreement had then called for the Taliban to agree to finally sit down with the Afghan government and other Afghans in peace talks. And now the holdup is on the side in Kabul where, as I said, they've been unable to do their part so far in getting these peace talks moving.
KING: So a frustrated Mike Pompeo says the United States will cut a billion dollars in aid to Afghanistan. How big a deal is that?
MILLER: That's a huge deal. Currently, the U.S. gives to Afghanistan around $500 million a year in civilian assistance - or that's assistance for civilian purposes and, this year, about $4.2 billion in assistance for its security forces. The Afghan government is existentially dependent on this aid from the United States. It gets aid from other sources, too, but this is the biggest portion of aid that it receives. So a billion-dollar cut is - even if it entirely wiped out all of the assistance for civilian purposes, would also cut into the aid for the security forces.
KING: Are civilians, though, the people who are likely to be hurt by this?
MILLER: Look; the Afghan people are certainly likely to be hurt by this and, frankly, by the actions of Afghan politicians who have brought the situation to this path.
KING: Laurel Miller of the International Crisis Group joining us by Skype.
Thanks so much, Laurel.
MILLER: It was my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.