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America's Afghan Imperative

The international community must confront the harsh reality that Afghanistan is descending toward catastrophic human suffering and state failure. America should take urgent steps to provide essential funding while also setting clear criteria for the Taliban government to gain international recognition and sanctions relief.

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States may have lost the war in Afghanistan, but it can still salvage the peace. To prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state, the US must end its economic isolation of the country and, instead, jumpstart international efforts to resuscitate its collapsing economy. The US also needs to develop a road map that could open the door to recognizing and working with the Taliban-led government, which, like it or not, is set to remain in control of Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

The chaos produced by the US-led military withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer made daily headlines. Yet global attention has faded, even though the suffering that accompanied the fall of Kabul pales in comparison to the effects of cutting off external economic support after the Taliban takeover. Under Afghanistan’s previous Western-backed regime, international development aid financed 75% of the government’s budget, and foreign assistance accounted for over 40% of GDP. Withdrawing this support has triggered a dire humanitarian crisis, with disease spreading and half of the country’s population of roughly 40 million facing life-threatening food shortages. The United Nations estimates that 97% of Afghans will soon be living below the international poverty line ($1.90 a day).

The international community is well aware of Afghanistan’s plight, and is seeking to increase funding for the many organizations delivering humanitarian assistance on the ground. The UN aims to raise $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid, the largest single-country package in its history. But even this sum will fall well short of what is needed to rescue Afghanistan. The unraveling of the country’s economy and state institutions means that humanitarian assistance is a bandage, not a remedy.