Don’t Abandon Afghanistan’s Economy Too

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As the chances of evacuation dwindle, the West owes Afghans a chance at surviving in their own country.

As Western powers pull out of Afghanistan, they have begun to ask themselves what their remaining sources of leverage over the Taliban are. In forums like the G-7 meeting chaired by the United Kingdom, conversations rapidly turn to the possibility of using funding as a means of pressure. This is a dangerous approach.

Afghanistan is critically dependent on foreign aid. In recent years, it was not unusual for it to have received aid amounting to 43 percent of its GDP. That flow of funds has now been suspended, giving the West leverage. But if the West exercises pressure indiscriminately, it will pull Afghanistan’s last remaining support at the same time it’s abandoning the country. The Taliban may threaten Afghan freedom and rights, but it is the abrupt end to funding from the West that jeopardizes their material survival.

The single clearest index of this dependence-based relationship is its balance of trade. Afghanistan is in deficit to the tune of 25 to 30 percent of its GDP. At $7 billion in 2020, Afghanistan’s imports exceeded its exports of $1.7 billion by a factor of four.

This is not by itself surprising. Afghanistan is very poor. Poor countries have a bottomless hunger for foreign goods. But the poor countries’ problem, by definition, is they have little to trade in return. Otherwise, they would not be poor. How much a poor county can satisfy its appetite for imports depends on the external funding it can find. It is not by accident that Afghanistan’s huge trade deficit first emerged after 2001, when the country was taken over by Western powers, or that the deficit reached its maximum toward the end of then-U.S. President Barack Obama’s military surge in 2012 and immediately thereafter in 2013. Imports are a direct function of foreign aid.

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.

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