Two Pakistani men looking over the mountains at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The mountain in the background are in Afghanistan. Credit: philmcelhinney
Two Pakistani men looking over the mountains at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The mountain in the background are in Afghanistan. Credit: philmcelhinney

Is the UK turning its back on Afghanistan and Pakistan?

The past few years have brought significant challenges for people living in Afghanistan and Pakistan, driven by complex economic crises and the continued impact of climate change.

Humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating at pace, with a projected two-thirds of the population – over 28 million people – expected to need humanitarian assistance in the coming year. The dire situation for women and girls in Afghanistan is particularly concerning, with their rights increasingly curtailed.

In Pakistan, the economic downturn and rising inflation have left many families unable to afford basic healthcare. This has been compounded by a series of devastating natural disasters, such as last year’s floods, which affected millions of people, destroyed thousands of homes and damaged an already struggling economy.

Broken promises?

It is against this backdrop that the UK government has announced its aid budget to these two countries for the next financial year, which confirms a reduction of over 53% from last year, more than any other region. A reduction of this level could have serious consequences for people living in these countries who rely on humanitarian support but also raises questions about the credibility of the UK’s stated commitments. For instance, how do the promises made by the UK during COP26 stack up if funding to Pakistan is reduced? Similarly, how can expressed words of solidarity for Afghan women be meaningful, if vital programmes that support women and girls risk closure as a result of UK cuts?

For Afghans in particular, these cuts will only compound an overwhelming sense of abandonment. It is also concerning for NGOs, both international and Afghan organisations, who are working tirelessly to provide lifesaving assistance in the country, despite significant operational challenges.

The recent ban on the employment of Afghan women from NGOs has been particularly challenging. There are concerns that any further reduction in UK aid could impact the ability of aid organisations and local partners to implement programmes and deliver essential services to those who need them most. We must ensure that the response from donors, including the UK, helps rather than hurts Afghans.

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This reduction has also come just days after the UK aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), criticised the use of approximately one-third of the UK’s aid budget on the first-year costs of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.

This marks a failure in the UK’s moral and legal responsibility to support both people seeking safety in the UK and those facing conflict, climate change and inequality around the world. It also raises concerns about the value for money and the lack of transparency in aid spending.

Finding a way forward

We hope, first and foremost, that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) will reconsider its funding decisions for Afghanistan and Pakistan, with careful consideration about the human consequences that such a significant reduction in aid could have.

Despite the significant challenges in Afghanistan, we have been encouraged by the continued commitment of FCDO staff to understand the complexity of the situation and try to find solutions to support the Afghan people.

However, given the funding gap, the FCDO should clearly outline how it intends to meet its commitments. For instance, the FCDO has committed to supporting women and girls in Afghanistan as a focus country in the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Policy commitments need to be followed up with meaningful funding.

Also in Afghanistan’s context, rather than kneejerk reactions to Taliban policies, donors should be thinking strategically about its engagement with Afghanistan to focus on promoting economic stability, for example, supporting the recovery of the country’s private sector.

The recent aid cut to Afghanistan and Pakistan by the UK government is a cause for serious concern. Whilst the full impact of the cuts remains to be seen, we fear that it could be devastating for people living in these countries who are struggling so much. This is not the time for the UK to turn its back.