America cuts $1bn in aid from Afghanistan as Pompeo fails to break elections impasse 

Mike Pompeo said the failure to resolve electoral deadlock 'poses a direct threat to US national interests'

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets with Abdullah Abdullah the main political rival of President Ashraf Ghani at the Sepidar Palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, March 23, 2020.
Mike Pompeo met with Abdullah Abdullah (r) and his rival, Ashraf Ghani, to no avail Credit: AP

America has said it will cut $1bn of aid to Afghanistan and the same again next year as it tries to pressure the country's political elite into resolving the deadlock over last year's elections.

Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, attempted to shame Ashraf Ghani, president, and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, into resolving their differences after his personal mediation trip to Kabul failed.

Their stubbornness had left America “disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests,” Mr Pompeo said as he left the Afghan capital empty-handed.

Mr Ghani was declared winner of the presidential elections, but Dr Abdullah claims he was cheated and has also claimed victory. Attempts to cut a power-sharing deal have failed.

Mr Pompeo said the failure of the men to find a settlement, had “harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghan, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country”.

Warning that the inability to reach a compromise “poses a direct threat to US national interests”, he said Washington would immediately cut a billion dollars of aid and prepare to cut another billion in 2021.

Mr Pompeo's dash to the other side of the world to resolve the power struggle, as well as the strongly-worded statement underlined American concern that the impasse risks undercutting America's deal with the Taliban.

Laurel Miller, a former United States special representative to the region, said the reduction in aid was a “blaringly loud wake-up call for Afghan political leaders”.

“This is the leverage the US has, and it’s using it,” she added.

Mr Ghani on Tuesday claimed the withdrawal of aid “would not have a direct impact on the system”, even though the Afghan government is only able to cover a quarter of its budget itself.

Political paralysis over the elections and a row with the Taliban over a prisoner swap have thwarted hopes of quick progress towards talks after America and the insurgents signed a deal in Doha on February 29. Long-awaited talks between the Afghan government and the militants are now weeks behind schedule.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Centre think tank's Asia programme, said Mr Pompeo's visit underlined how badly Washington wanted movement on the talks.

“Washington doesn't want to have painstakingly negotiated an agreement with the Taliban in vain,” he said.

Mr Pompeo told reporters on his flight from Kabul that he hoped America would not need to deliver on its threat to cut aid. He said he was hopeful the opposing political factions "will get their act together and we won't have to" cut the assistance. "But we're prepared to do that," he added.

After departing Afghanistan, he stopped in Qatar to hold brief meetings with Taliban envoys, including the militants chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Mr Pompeo told reporters he was confident the Taliban were keeping their side of the deal and had reduced violence, despite an apparent escalation of fighting since the deal was signed.

A Taliban spokesman said after the meeting that Mr Pompeo had assured the insurgents a withdrawal of American forces "will continue in accordance with the declared timetable."