Engaging with Afghanistan
Afghanistan faces four crises: hundreds of thousands of internally displaced citizens as a result of recent fighting; a nationwide drought; the collapse of the economy resulting from the collapse of the Afghan government and the abrupt curtailment of international aid; and the covid pandemic, the dimensions of which are still unknown. Afghans need our help.
For decades, Afghanistan has relied on international aid to underwrite basic government services and pay salaries of public sector employees, police and security forces. About seventy-five percent of the former government’s budget came from foreign sources, which made it more dependent on outside aid than any other large country in the world. Abruptly ending this support would cause untold suffering and widespread starvation and would send waves of desperate refugees fleeing to neighboring countries and on to to Europe.
Restarting the flow of humanitarian aid must be the highest priority of the international community. Aid should be conditioned, and as much as possible channeled through international financial institutions and non-government organizations. However, the new Afghan government must receive direct aid so civil servants can be paid and essential services maintained.
There also is a strategic reason to engage with the new government. China and Russia are eager to expand their already considerable influence in south Asia, and turning our back on Afghanistan would be handing a gift to our strategic competitors.
Finally, engaging with Afghanistan would allow the United States and the international community to redeem some of their massive investments in both Afghanistan’s infrastructure and people. Afghans, especially those living in urban areas, have seen dramatic improvements in their lives over the past twenty years. Investments in health care, education and human rights have helped millions of Afghans live healthier lives, get an education and exercise rights many never had before.
Providing humanitarian and development assistance to the new government in Afghanistan would cost a small fraction of what the United States has been spending on the war. It could turn out to be the best investment America has ever made in Afghanistan.