Crafting the International Response in Afghanistan: Options to Enable Financial Flows and Promote “Beyond-Humanitarian” Aid

May 24, 2022


About the Afghanistan Strategic Learning Initiative

This note draws on a series of events under the Afghanistan Strategic Learning Initiative (ASLI). The initiative was convened with the support of the UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub and the donor, the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, in partnership with the Center for Global Development (CGD), Chatham House, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), ODI and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development-Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC).

Between December 2021 and February 2022, ASLI convened four workshops led by each of the partner organizations in turn. The workshops brought together senior leaders, decision-makers, experts, researchers, and practitioners to discuss what comes next for foreign aid in Afghanistan. The lead organization for each workshop published an accompanying paper, of which this is one.

The first workshop, led by Chatham House on December 17, 2021, explored four potential scenarios for Afghanistan’s political, economic, and security trajectory over the next 18-24 months. The second workshop, led by IDS on January 28, 2022, explored need and vulnerability, tying the drivers of these conditions to the scenarios outlined by Chatham House. The third workshop, led by CGD on February 9, assessed options for future aid instruments and mechanisms to address the financial crisis. The fourth workshop, led by ODI on February 28, focused on options for collective action.

Following the workshops and papers, ASLI published a synthesis paper that summarizes options for effective international engagement with a changed Afghanistan.

ASLI seeks to leverage the collective knowledge and experience of leading global think tanks working on Afghanistan and aid issues. Our goal is to make a coherent and evidence-based contribution to emerging and ongoing work addressing development and vulnerability in Afghanistan.

Links to partners’ papers:

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 and the international community’s policy response plunged the already faltering Afghan economy into crisis and pushed the country into a new, more severe phase of humanitarian crisis. While the international community has committed a significant amount of aid to responding to immediate humanitarian needs, resolving the crisis requires stabilizing the country’s financial sector and enabling urgent financial flows.

Without a functioning financial system, Afghans will remain unable to buy essential goods, including food and medicine. Humanitarian agencies and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) seeking to relieve the effects of these shortages will face higher costs and greater risks moving money into the country to finance their operations. The Afghan economy will slide more deeply into economic and political turmoil, perpetuating the humanitarian crisis and undoubtedly leading to greater external displacement.

At the same time, there is growing recognition that Afghanistan’s acute humanitarian crisis will give way to protracted development, governance, and peacebuilding challenges. While humanitarian interventions are critical, they are insufficient to meet current needs, much less to promote broader self-sufficiency or preserve the gains in service delivery and social outcomes achieved through 20 years of international support. So, despite real reservations about engaging in ways that might—or might be seen to—bolster the Taliban, the international community is beginning to explore options for expanding engagement beyond short-term humanitarian relief.

The first section of this note examines the causes and consequences of Afghanistan’s financial crisis and lays out policy options the international community can support to enable urgent financial flows and restore the basic functioning of the Afghan financial system. The next section examines prospects for expanding assistance beyond humanitarian relief. It discusses options for aid instruments and identifies key principles for “beyond-humanitarian” aid, centered on the pragmatic expansion of government engagement, empowerment of local actors, and accountability structures that build trust and focus on results.

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