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In August 2021, the Taliban captured Kabul as Coalition troops withdrew from Afghanistan. It announced the formation of a government in early September. Remaining opposition forces have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan

Afghanistan is one of the world’s least developed countries, according to UN measurements. It is highly dependent on aid, with grants financing around 75% of public spending under the Presidency of Ashraf Ghani (2014-21), according to the World Bank’s expenditure report. Although aid has fallen from around 100% of GDP in 2009 to 43% in 2020, it remains at a high level.

Afghanistan is also a cash-reliant society. In 2020, 85% of the adult population did not have a bank account, according to the World Bank. In September 2021, the UN warned that Afghanistan may face an economic collapse and resulting humanitarian crisis, partly because of its liquidity crisis but also due to a decline in foreign trade.

The UN has warned that 97% of Afghans could be below the poverty line by mid-2022 unless international trade and aid resume. In October, the UN announced a trust fund to provide cash directly to Afghans. Its intended activities are budgeted to cost $667 million over the next 12 months.

This briefing describes the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, and the country’s economic and liquidity crisis. It also looks at how the UN and aid agencies are attempting to access Afghanistan, without Taliban interference; new aid pledges; and debates over how to best engage with the Taliban over aid now.

Aid commitments to Afghanistan

It’s uncertain how much aid is now needed to support Afghanistan, or how it will be delivered under Taliban rule. Short-term aid is likely to focus on relieving the humanitarian situation, including supporting internally placed people and refugees, while aid relating to security and governance is likely to end.

The UN launched a flash appeal to raise US $600 billion for the country in September 2021, and saw $US 1.1 billion pledged (it is uncertain how much is new money). However, only 35% of that needed for October and November has so far been delivered.

The UK, US and the EU are among those to have announced new or amended aid pledges for Afghanistan. The UK has pledged £286 million for 2021, £30 million of which will be for Afghanistan’s neighbours to support regional stability and refugees. £50 million will also be spent to address humanitarian needs such as providing food and shelter, and protecting women and girls from gender-based violence in the country. UK aid is intended to be delivered through international organisations, such as UN agencies, rather than directly to Taliban authorities.

Delivering aid via the UN

Some countries, such as Pakistan and the UAE, have argued that aid to Afghanistan should be non-conditional. However, the UK and its partners have said that aid (other than that to address humanitarian needs) should be partly dependent on the actions of the Taliban. This includes ensuring the protection of girls, women, and minorities, such as the Hazaras.

Since the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, the UN and its agencies, such as Unicef and the World Health Organization, have said they remain committed to working in the country. In September 2021, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a Resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which coordinates and delivers aid. The UN has also received written assurances from the Taliban that it will not interfere with the delivery of aid and will protect aid workers. However, some NGOs have raised concerns for the protection of their female staff.

Other NGOs have come to their own agreements with the Taliban to continue their work. This includes the UK-based Halo Trust, a mine clearance charity, and Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.

Freeze on Afghan assets abroad and continuing sanctions

Since the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, Afghan assets oversees, such as those held by its central bank, have been frozen by the US. Total assets held overseas are estimated to be in the region of US$ 9-10 billion, according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on the bank’s holdings in April 2021. While both China and Russia have called for these to be released, the US, where a large proportion of the assets are held, has said it has no plans to do so.

The World Bank and IMF have paused their aid programmes in the country, among other organisations.

Another challenge for delivering aid to Afghanistan is that the Taliban is subject to sanctions. In September 2021, the US Treasury Department granted exemptions for select organisations, including the UN and the Red Cross/Red Crescent. The UK Government has also been in discussions with charities and NGOs over how to navigate the sanctions regime in place.

Further information on the situation in Afghanistan can be found in the Library Briefing,  Afghanistan: Refugees and displaced people in 2021. The Foreign Affairs Committee has also launched an inquiry into the UK’s future policy towards Afghanistan.  


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