On November 23, 2020, and November 24, 2020, the governments of Afghanistan and Finland and the United Nations hosted the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva. The Conference is a quadrennial summit that serves as a chance for the international community to renew its long-term assistance commitments to Afghanistan. Seventy countries and 30 international organizations participated in this COVID-19-conscious summit at the UN Palais des Nations. The groups discussed the ways in which Afghanistan can develop economically, politically and socially. Talks went on in light of a worldwide pandemic and a year of new clashes as well as historic peace talks.
Changes in Funding for Afghanistan
The 2020 Afghanistan Conference serves as a “pivotal moment for aid-dependent Afghanistan.” The changes in funding that Afghanistan will receive in the coming years were a prioritized issue. From 2017 through 2020, Afghanistan received a yearly $3.8 billion from its donors. On the other hand, more recently, estimates determined a 17% drop in funds as Afghanistan has received $3.3 billion for 2021 from donors. Many expected the considerable drops in funding, however. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy will contract at least 5.5% by the end of 2020. This is a COVID-19-related crunch that the entire world is feeling. “Donor fatigue” is a concurrent effect as the pandemic stretches the global aid system thin. Donor-reliant nations such as Afghanistan are taking a hit. As the United States Institute for Peace considers funding “a critical ingredient” for stability in Afghanistan, an incoming drop in funds may have detrimental impacts both economically and politically.
Peace Talks in Afghanistan
2020 was also a year for monumental peace talks in Afghanistan, but not a year without violence. In February 2020, a monumental peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban had resulted in a considerable withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; forces will have reduced from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January 2021. But violence continues, and in October alone, 35,000 civilians experienced displacement in Helmand Province, and another 16,000 underwent displacement in Kandahar. With the U.S. clearly on the withdrawal, the Afghan government now leads negotiations with the Taliban, who were not invited to the 2020 Afghanistan Conference but made a statement with the hopes that the international community would deliver aid “collected in the name of the people.”
Roles of Afghan Women in the Nation’s Civil Society
Another primary concern at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, specifically among Afghan-based groups working for peace and development, was the future roles that Afghan women may play in the nation’s civil society. The Kabul-based group Equality for Peace and Democracy made an address. It exalted the impact that gender-based equality has in a society striving for a place on the world stage. The aid group CARE, which noted that women and girls have experienced exclusion “from meaningful participation” in Afghan society, hopes that donors will make more economic and political opportunities for women in Afghanistan a requirement for financial assistance.
Naturally, the epidemic, declines in donorship, historic developments in regional peace and potential upheaval of civil society all presented humanitarian worries for Afghanistan’s immediate future. As the nation enters the second wave of COVID-19, food prices will continue to rise globally. In addition, a third of Afghanistan’s population is predicted to face “crisis or emergency levels of hunger” through March 2021. The more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, which typically face bitter winters, will have even more vulnerable food security. The 2020 Afghanistan Conference, however, was a productive way to bring these issues to light and an opportunity for the international community to learn about these problems and pledge to help treat them.
– Stirling MacDougall