President Ghani’s call comes in a virtual address to the Geneva donor conference, where dozens of nations are expected to pledge billions of dollars in aid. But diplomats predict a dip in funding due to uncertainties over peace and Covid-19 pandemic.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on November 19, 2020.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on November 19, 2020. (AFP)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has urged the international community to continue supporting Afghanistan even as he acknowledged that donors are likely to cut aid under the strain of Covid-19.

Ghani's call came on Tuesday in a virtual address to a global donor conference in Geneva, with Afghanistan beset by violence between the Taliban and government forces, rampant corruption and an imminent withdrawal of US forces.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown us all into a state of global uncertainty," Ghani said from Kabul.

"We are exceptionally grateful that at a time of such collective suffering ... your commitment to Afghanistan remains strong.

"We ask our international partners to help us do more with less ... financial resources, aid, will continue to be critical to our growth for the foreseeable future."

Also addressing the conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a ceasefire as soon as possible, with violence escalating while peace negotiators have have struggled to make progress since talks began in Qatar in September.

Donor nations meet every four years to pledge aid to Afghanistan, which is almost entirely reliant on foreign assistance despite years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy.

But the 2020 donor conference could see less aid pledged as countries battle to recover from the devastating impact of Covid-19.

The previous 2016 conference in Brussels raised $15.2 billion.

Keeping financing on a tight rein could provide foreign governments with some leverage to inject a greater sense of urgency into the peace process, diplomats said.

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EU pledges 1.2 billion euros

 The European Union pledged on Tuesday to maintain its commitment of 1.2 billion euros ($1.43 billion) to Afghanistan at a donor conference in Geneva.

"In 2016, the EU showed its strong commitment to Afghanistan by pledging 1.2 billion euros over a four-year period," said Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner in charge of International Partnerships.

"It is my pleasure to announce today that we are ready to keep this level of support for the next four years."

EU warns against strict rule

The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell warned authorities in Afghanistan that any attempts to restore strict rule would impact the bloc's engagement in the war-torn country.
Borrell made the comments during a largely virtual pledging conference, the latest effort to drum up aid and support for a country where Taliban fighters are making inroads against the government.

"Any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement," Borrell said.

Britain, one of the country's top bilateral donors, said in a statement it would pledge $227 million in annual civilian and food aid.

Finland and the United Nations, who are organising the conference with the Afghan government, urged the international community not to abandon their commitments to the country as the United States withdraws troops.

"(Afghans) will need the ongoing support of the international community: political, financial, and technical. Now is no t the time to walk away," said Deborah Lyons, head of the UN's mission to Afghanistan. 

Peace talks in Qatar

Concerns are high that gains made in the past two decades, especially in the area of women's rights, could be lost as the Taliban unleashes further violence.

The Taliban and Afghan government have been engaged in peace talks in Qatar since September 12 but no progress has been announced so far.

"I want to be very clear that our commitment to negotiations with the Taliban remains firm," Ghani said.

But he added that violence had "skyrocketed" since a US-Taliban deal in February paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces by May 2021.

"Plans to achieve peace did not materialise as imagined. Suffering and killing continues to plague Afghans on a daily basis. It is unbearable," he said.

Support for Kabul from donor nations sends an important message to the Taliban in peace negotiations, experts say.

"Although the amount pledged is important, what's more significant is the donors providing their support to Afghanistan," said Nishank Motwani, deputy director at the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.

"It's important to also remember that Covid has eviscerated economies and most countries are going to struggle financially for a while. Hence, the climate is not suitable to attract big pledges."

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies