No end to Kabul stand off even after $1 bn US aid cut

No end to Kabul political stand off, despite $1 bn US aid cut

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah. Credit: Reuters File Photo

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah showed no sign Tuesday of ending their bitter feud, even after it cost the impoverished nation $1 billion in US aid -- with yet more on the line.

The massive cut was announced Monday after an exasperated US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kabul in a bid to resolve the standoff that has seen Abdullah proclaim himself president despite Ghani officially winning last year's controversial poll.

Pompeo, who lashed out at the their "failure" to come to an agreement, said the US would immediately cut $1 billion and was "prepared" to pull another $1 billion in 2021, with further cuts possible after that.

The US and the Taliban signed a landmark deal last month that was supposed to pave the way for talks between the Afghan leadership and the insurgents, but with Kabul unable to agree who is in government, the talks have stalled.

With a GDP of only about $20 billion, the cuts represent a devastating blow to Afghanistan's donor-dependent economy and could hardly come at a worse time -- with coronavirus spreading across the country and Taliban attacks on the increase.

Ghani appeared in a televised address on Tuesday to reassure Afghans that "the US reduction in aid will have no direct impact on our key sectors", adding that his government would try to satisfy the US "through talks and negotiations".

But he also blamed Abdullah, who he said despite being offered "an important role" and cabinet representation has demanded changes to the constitution, which Ghani does not have the power to make.

Ghani did not specify the proposed changes, but likely it would be to allow Abdullah to serve another term as chief executive or become prime minister.

Abdullah also released a statement saying that while Pompeo's trip had created an opportunity to resolve the crisis, "unfortunately it was not utilised properly".

Pompeo later flew on to Doha and met with three Taliban leaders including Mullah Baradar, a formerly imprisoned insurgent who has become their chief negotiator.

Under last month's US-Taliban deal, Washington and its foreign allies will withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by April 2021. Washington has given little indication it will stray from that timeline even as the Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghan forces.

Abdullah and Ghani's rift goes back to at least 2014, when Ghani bested his rival in elections that saw allegations of mass fraud. The same thing happened in September's polls.

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