U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson urged Afghanistan’s Western donors to remain committed to funding the country’s education, health, and development programs after the United States and its military allies withdraw their military forces from the country at the end of 2014.
"These enormous resources that have been spent on the military presence should in some form be transferred into civilian programs," Eliasson said in an interview in his U.N. office overlooking the East River. "We hope that this date of 2014 and the withdrawal does not mean that we are not committed to help Afghanistan."
The appeal comes as the United States and its Western allies have begun the work of dismantling their decade-long nation-building effort, raising concern that the phasing out of hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance programs will result in hardships for civilians in conflict zones that have received much of the money.
The United States and its military allies have channeled most of their reconstruction and relief efforts through a series of Provincial Reconstruction Teams that have served as the hearts and minds programs in support of the anti-Taliban military effort. The program, which built roads and hospitals and funded health and education programs, will largely be shuttered along with the military withdrawal.
About 90 percent of Afghanistan’s budget is funded by foreign donors, and there are concerns that an abrupt withdrawal will plunge the country into dire economic straits.
In July, the United States and other international donors pledged more than $16 billion in assistance to fill the financial gap left behind by the military withdrawal. And the U.N.’s special representative in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, provided an upbeat assessment of Afghanistan’s future, saying he was confident that the international community would remain engaged in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal, FP’s David Bosco noted in his Multilateralist blog.
Eliasson said he hoped the large financial pledges would lead to "concrete assistance" in education, health care, and programs aimed at assisting girls and women. But he acknowledged that the international community faces daunting political, financial, and security challenges in Afghanistan.
The International Crisis Group, meanwhile, issued a paper Monday warning that the internationally backed government in Kabul is in danger of collapsing after the 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces if no steps are taken to ensure fair presidential elections in that same year.
"There are alarming signs Karzai hopes to stack the deck for a favored proxy. Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out," according to the report. "As foreign aid and investment decline with the approach of the 2014 draw-down, so, too, will political cohesion in the capital."
The political forecast for Afghanistan has also been clouded by questions about the Taliban’s willingness to accept an international role in the country. Early this week, Taliban militants in Pakistan attacked 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken advocate of education for girls. A spokesman for Pakistan’s Taliban movement, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility for the killing, saying she was "promoting Western culture in Pashtun areas."
Eliasson said he hopes this "incredibly brutal act" doesn’t signal a broader move by the Taliban movement, which has deep roots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to reject foreign assistance as a tool of Western influence.
"If that school of though would prevail in Afghanistan, it would show even more how important it is that we continue to help the Afghan people and the Afghan government," he said. "I hope that even among the Taliban some would react to this extreme action."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.