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On 15 August 2021, the Taliban captured Kabul. The Presidency of Ashraf Ghani collapsed after he left the country.

US and coalition forces had been in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, with the intention of completing this process by 11 September 2021. Some troops have now been deployed to the country to help evacuate diplomatic staff, foreign nationals and Afghan civilians employed by the coalition.

The Taliban’s effective control of Afghanistan could have significant consequences for the delivery of aid, and the maintenance of development progress achieved since 2001. Afghanistan remains one of the world’s least developed countries, according to UN measurements.

Previous international development funding from the UK had sought to ensure the Governments of Ghani and his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, would have capacity to maintain security and ensure that Afghanistan did not act as a sanctuary for terrorist and other extremist groups. UK aid helped deliver essential services, drive economic growth, and address the causes of instability.

Since 2001, around 150,000 British service personnel have served in Afghanistan. Of these, 457 were killed. Since the US-led invasion in 2001, an estimated 241,000 combatants (including UK and other forces), civilians, aid workers and others have died in the Afghanistan and Pakistan conflict zone.

This briefing summarises the amount of aid provided by the UK and its coalition partners, progress made since 2001, the potential impact of Taliban rule, and how aid may now be delivered and refocused in Afghanistan.

Updates on the governance of Afghanistan can be found in the Library briefing, Afghanistan: Fall of the Government and the transition of power.

Progress since 2001

Since 2001, around $65 billion in aid has been provided to Afghanistan, including £3.5 billion from the UK (around 8 percent of the total). UK aid has focused on improving governance and providing humanitarian assistance.

Notable improvements include the increased participation of girls in school, though their participation remains at a lower levels than boys, and greater political representation for women.

While the country is mineral rich, much of its population remains dependent on agriculture and the Government has struggled to raise sufficient revenue to cover its security and civil functions. Currently, 80 percent of its budget is funded by international donors. Opium production also remains high, and is  a significant income source for the Taliban.

The country had developed a relatively diverse and independent media, but corruption and election fraud remained significant concerns despite coalition efforts to strengthen Afghan democracy.

Planned commitments to Afghanistan

The UK and its partners intended to continue providing aid to the Government of Ashraf Ghani once coalition forces had left. For 2021, the UK pledged £155 million in aid, a reduction from the £290 million it delivered in 2019. The aid was intended to focus on education, child mortality, infrastructure, and the pandemic. The UK also announced £15 million in emergency funding to the World Food Programme to address food shortages in the country.

UK aid and development assistance was subsequently increased in August 2021 to £286 million for 2021 (see below).

Many donors, including the UK, had made their aid commitments conditional on seeing improvements in Afghanistan’s governance and human rights record.

The impact of greater Taliban influence and control

The Taliban controlled almost all of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and had a repressive rule that neglected basic social services, restricted the rights of women, and conducted extra-judicial killings and punishments.

During the second round of the Doha Peace talks, beginning in 2018, Taliban representatives have suggested a willingness to moderate their stance on some issues, such as girls’ education and allowing NGOs to continue to work. However, many of these commitments remain at the general level and are likely to represent a position adopted for diplomatic negotiations rather than a change in policy. In some parts of Helmand Province, for example, the Taliban has already closed schools to girls. Other schools have been subject to deadly attacks.

Years of conflict, the impact of the pandemic, ongoing violence and weak governance mean Afghanistan will continue to face significant development challenges.

Minority groups are also likely to come under increased threats if order is weakened. Most Hindus and Sikhs have already left the country, and the Hazaras, who are mostly Shia Muslims in a Sunni-majority country, have been subject to violent attacks by the Taliban and other groups.

Aid, humanitarian assistance and the Taliban

In August 2021, the UN Security Council called for the continued delivery of humanitarian aid and access of humanitarian workers to the country, a position supported by the UK and US.

UK aid spending

The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has said the UK will work with partners to hold the Taliban to account and seek to encourage the establishment of an inclusive Afghan Government. Measures to enforce this may include sanctions or holding back aid. The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has adopted a similar position.

Addressing the Commons on 18 August 2021, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said UK humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan would be increased to £286 million in 2021. The Government will also seek international support to deliver humanitarian projects in the wider region.

In September 2021, the Government announced that up to £30 million of this funding would be available to Afghanistan’s neighbours to support regional stability and support refugees. £10 million will be available to the UN Refugee Agency and its partners to provide urgent humanitarian assistance. This is the first tranche of the £286 million of funding.

G7 statements

In 2021, the UK holds the G7 Presidency. The Government has said it will use its Presidency, in addition to its UN Security Council Membership, to “address the humanitarian plight” of Afghanistan

In 2021, the UK holds the G7 Presidency. The Government has said it will use its Presidency, in addition to its UN Security Council Membership, to “address the humanitarian plight” of Afghanistan. The G7 Meeting in August called for its members to cooperate together and with neighbouring countries to Afghanistan to support Afghan refugees and host communities. Leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to protecting the development progress made since 2001 in areas such as women’s rights.

Operation of UN agencies and NGOs in the country

UN agencies such as the World Food Programme and Uncief say they intend to remain in Afghanistan to provide and coordinate aid. However, the UN Secretary General has said some reprisals against UN staff by the Taliban have taken place.

There may also be some individual agreements that allow some services and NGOs to remain effective—the Taliban has made an agreement with Unicef to allow it to provide schools. The Halo Trust has also been allowed to conduct mine clearance work. ­

UN agencies such as the World Food Programme and Uncief say they intend to remain in Afghanistan to provide and coordinate aid. The UN and World Health Organization have made deliveries of medical supplies and food since the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in mid-August.

There may also be some individual agreements that allow some services and NGOs to remain effective—the Taliban has made an agreement with Unicef to allow it to provide schools. The Halo Trust has also been allowed to conduct mine clearance work.


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