Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 30 May 2020

US says donors 'fed up' with Afghan political rift

Washington has been increasingly vocal about its frustration with Kabul's inability to solve internal disagreements

Afghanistan's president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani (right), Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah (centre), and Afghanistan former president, Hamid Karzai (left). EPA
Afghanistan's president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani (right), Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah (centre), and Afghanistan former president, Hamid Karzai (left). EPA

The United States government has again criticised political disputes in Kabul, urging president Ashraf Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah to put aside differences amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The US cut nearly $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in aid to Afghanistan after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to mediate a breakthrough between the two Afghan politicians, who have both claimed victory in last September’s nationwide election.

In an increasingly stark tone, the US has been urging a swift resolution in order for Kabul to begin negotiations with the Taliban after a US deal to end their longest conflict.

“As the world gets slammed by Covid-19, with devastating economic consequences for all, donors are frustrated and fed up by personal agendas being advanced ahead of the welfare of the Afghan people,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells tweeted overnight on Monday in a thinly veiled swipe at the two Afghan politicians.

Afghanistan ordered people to stay home amid the outbreak in the country but many initially defied the movement restrictions. They showed up to work and tried to keep markets open, but the police cracked down, setting up checkpoints in Kabul, detaining people and ordering others to go home.

There are officially 423 cases in the country and 11 deaths. Eighteen people who previously tested positive have since recovered.

Ms Wells also tweeted to say the US welcomed news that Mr Ghani had reversed a ruling to divide the finance ministry into three entities. His plan would have seen the ministry carved up into an office of revenues and customs, an office of the treasury and a finance administration.

But he has now backtracked from that decision.

“Welcome media reports that President Ashraf Ghani reversed his decree dismembering Afghanistan's Ministry of Finance. Donor confidence depends on responsible and inclusive leadership,” she said.

After his visit to Kabul in late March, Mr Pompeo said he was “disappointed” in the country’s rival leaders and announced the $1bn cut in aid.

The cut in US aid to Afghanistan would come from funds for security forces, three US sources told Reuters. Experts said such a move would undercut both Kabul's ability to fight the Taliban and its leverage to negotiate a peace deal with them.

Two US congressional aides said State Department officials told Congress the $1bn would come from a $4.2bn Pentagon fund that underwrites about three quarters of the Afghan security forces' annual budget.

Most of the fund pays for salaries, food, fuel, equipment and infrastructure to support Afghan troops and national police.

After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban, the US is looking for a way to extricate itself and to achieve peace between the US-backed government and the militant group, which controls more than 40 per cent of Afghan territory.

The results of September's election were delayed for months amid accusations from Dr Abdullah that the results were rigged. A large number of votes were disqualified as they did not have the corresponding biometric information.

Both leaders then held corresponding inaugurations on March 9.

The latest comments come as the Taliban said it was walking out on talks with Kabul about a prisoner exchange, accusing the government of holding “fruitless” meetings.

“Our technical team will not participate in fruitless meetings with relevant sides starting from tomorrow," Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is based in Doha, tweeted.

But Matin Bek, a member of the government's negotiating team, said the release had been delayed because the Taliban are demanding the 15 "top commanders" be released.

"We cannot release the killers of our people," Mr Bek told reporters on Monday. "We don't want them to go back to the battlefield and capture a whole province."

Updated: April 7, 2020 04:40 PM

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