The Afghan aid dilemma

The Afghan aid dilemma

Representatives from some 40 donor countries for Afghanistan gathered on Monday in Geneva to make a tough choice: keep humanitarian aid flowing to a country governed by violent religious zealots, or potentially watch one in three Afghans starve to death this winter.

In the end donors collectively pledged more than $1 billion, well above the $606 million the UN had asked for in order to avoid a famine that would have affected 14 million Afghans, about a third of the population, by the end of the year. But that's a drop in the bucket for the country's immense needs.


Afghanistan still faces a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Despite mostly Western donors spending upwards of $65 billion over two decades, the country remains extremely poor due to endemic corruption, mismanagement, and above all violence. The UN estimates that Afghanistan could be on the brink of near-universal poverty by mid-2022. To make matters worse, a severe drought has wiped out 40 percent of the wheat harvest, while over 3.5 million internally displaced Afghans are almost entirely dependent on foreign aid.

China and Pakistan have already provided some assistance to fill the gap, but that's nowhere near enough for the Taliban, who require legal sources of funding beyond illicit ones like opium to run the country.

Donors are prioritizing Afghanistan over other hotspots like Syria or Venezuela because Afghanistan has gained so much global attention in the wake of the Taliban takeover and US withdrawal that no Western donor can afford to ignore it, nor take the heat for the country again becoming a terrorist guesthouse, or unleashing a refugee crisis.

"As the situation unfolds, it's critical that world leaders ramp up diplomatic engagement to deliver humanitarian support to everyone who needs it, including women and girls whose rights and wellbeing are at particular risk," David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, told GZERO. "Untended humanitarian need is a political tinderbox, and what starts in Afghanistan will not end there."

In Geneva, top donors kicked the can down the road. They agreed to fund the UN's work to help Afghans in need, without recognizing the Taliban or giving them any money. But sooner or later they'll have to deal with the regime, which can shut down all UN programs in the country if it doesn't get its way.

And here's where it gets tricky. If the Taliban want the straight-up cash the previous US-backed Afghan government received to fund most of its budget, Western donors insist they ensure at least basic rights for all Afghans, including women and ethnic minorities.

The Taliban, for their part, don't seem willing to give up too much, or anything at all. Indeed, Afghanistan's new rulers have so far demonstrated that they intend to govern exactly as they did the last time they were in charge.

Just in the past few days, the Taliban announced an all-male, almost all-Pashtun interim government whose interior minister has a $5 million US bounty on his head and the blood of hundreds of Taliban enemies on his hands; confirmed that women will only be allowed to study separate from men; and killed unarmed protesters and Afghans who worked for US forces.

The Taliban are not even being coy about it. As the country's economy implodes, the new central bank governor took bad optics to a whole new level by appearing in a photo presumably deep in thought about the right monetary policy to control inflation and keep the local currency afloat… with his trusty AK-47 by his side.

Will donors eventually persuade the Taliban to play ball? In an exclusive interview ahead of the aid conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told GZERO World that if donors engage "positively" with the Taliban, perhaps they'll gain enough leverage to sell the regime on the benefits of becoming "part of a normal world."

The problem is that even if the Taliban do agree, for lack of a better term, to be less Taliban-ish — and that's a very big if — many Western donors simply don't trust they'll ultimately keep their end of the deal. Meanwhile, the fate of millions of vulnerable Afghans will continue to hang in the balance.

Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company – helping to renew people and planet through our business. We are committed to working towards zero emissions across our global operations by 2040. So far, more than 36% of our global electricity is powered through renewable sources. And through Project Gigaton, we have partnered with suppliers to avoid over 416 million metric tons of CO2e since 2017. Read more about our commitment to the planet in our 2021 ESG report.

The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — is only a fallback option if talks fail badly.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two smaller parties agree on little beyond legalizing weed, and even when they do, diverge on how to reach common goals. So, where does each stand on what separates them?

More Show less

Joe Biden has already cancelled more US student than any other president. But progressive Democrats want him to write off a lot more to reduce the racial wealth gap and help people recover better from COVID's economic ruin. Republicans are against all this because it would be unfair to current and future borrowers and to taxpayers footing the bill, not to mention subsidizing the rich.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

More Show less

40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

More Show less

Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

More Show less

Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Should the US cancel student loan debt?

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal