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15 October 2021

Can G20 leaders keep their promise to prevent economic collapse in Afghanistan?

Saving the country from economic ruin will be difficult without normalising the Taliban's hold on power.

By Emily Tamkin

G20 leaders this week pledged that Afghanistan would not crumble into economic catastrophe following the US withdrawal from the country in the summer. Angela Merkel, outgoing chancellor of Germany, said that Afghanistan shouldn’t be allowed to “descend into chaos”.

What remains unclear, though, is how, exactly, the G20 leaders intend to prevent such a descent.

For one thing, the United Nations told the world leaders it should pour billions into the country. At present, money is mostly coming through in the millions (though the EU did pledge €1bn). The funding is going to international organisations on the ground. Aid that would go to the Afghan government, such as EU development aid, is still frozen

That’s because world leaders do not want to normalise lending to the Taliban (save for Beijing, which has called for exactly that to happen). Joe Biden reiterated at the G20 that he did not believe that aid should be given directly to the group. But as I argued in September, some degree of Taliban buy-in is needed to avoid Afghanistan’s economic collapse. The Taliban are in power at this point. The main goal can be either to avoid normalising the group or to save the country from economic ruin, but it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve both at once. 

Meanwhile, Russia, which was not at the G20 discussion, set up regional talks for next week. Unlike at the G20, the Taliban will be present.

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[see also: Exclusive polling: majority of British voters do not think Afghanistan mission was a success]

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