On March 23rd, the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to Kabul in what seemed to be the United States’ last push to encourage the two rival parties, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, to resolve their differences and prioritize the political stability of Afghanistan amidst greater security challenges and a national health crisis on the horizon.
Secretary Pompeo met the two leaders separately and purportedly tried to break the political deadlock. However, in a statement which followed his departure in an absolute disappointment, he announced to “immediately reduce assistance by USD 1 billion,” and initiate a reconsideration of programs and projects aimed at further reduction of their aid to Afghanistan.
Since 2001, financial assistance has been a major foreign policy instrument of the United States to induce a desired behavior in Afghan politicians. The decision to reduce assistance is certainly the “Stick” in the Carrot and Stick approach. However, the real pressure will be felt by the majority of the Afghan people in view of the growing poverty and unemployment.
For example, the World Bank in its Afghanistan Development Update in January 2020 pointed out that poverty has worsened, and displacement due to conflict and weather conditions continued during 2019.
In view of these accounts, an increased financial pressure on the government will in reality exacerbate the already difficult conditions for the Afghan people. The majority of the Afghan people share the frustration of the United States with the reckless conduct of the Afghan political leaders. However, they are equally concerned about the wider implications of imposing financial and political sanctions on Afghanistan.
First and foremost, people think that financial pressure will directly result in reduced government and donor spending in Afghanistan--pushing most of the population into further economic distress.
In the meantime, the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) will feel the pressure of increasingly limited resources and begin to question the United States’ commitment to support them in their fight against international terrorism.
Second, the Afghan people are caught between a rock and hard place in which they can neither hold up under growing economic pressure nor accept the political status quo. The Afghan people obviously deserve better. And given our partnership with the United States and strong desire for ending the forty years of devastating conflict, the United States should adopt a more people-centric approach to obtain its political goals in Afghanistan.
About the author:
Abdullah Khenjani is the founder of the Democratic Society in Kabul, and an alumni of King's College, London University.