U.S. de­mands ri­val camps strike deal

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Kathy Gannon and Rahim Faiez Kathy Gannon and Rahim Faiez are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

KABUL — Wash­ing­ton’s un­prece­dented threat to cut $1 bil­lion in Afghanista­n fund­ing — a re­sponse to the re­fusal of ri­vals in Kabul to work to­gether to ad­vance peace — comes at a time when the im­pov­er­ished na­tion risks be­ing over­whelmed by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

On Tuesday both Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani and his ri­val, former Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, blamed one an­other for failing to re­solve the feud­ing, which prompted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pom­peo to threaten the mas­sive fund­ing cut.

Pom­peo called out the two lead­ers as he ended a rushed visit to Afghanista­n on Mon­day, de­fy­ing a near­global travel ban be­cause of the virus. He left Kabul without be­ing able to se­cure a pow­er­shar­ing deal.

Ghani told the na­tion in a tele­vised ad­dress that Ab­dul­lah’s pow­er­shar­ing de­mands were un­con­sti­tu­tional. For his part, Ab­dul­lah said Pom­peo’s visit was a missed op­por­tu­nity.

Pom­peo said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would slash $1 bil­lion in as­sis­tance to Afghanista­n and re­duce all co­op­er­a­tion un­less Ghani and Ab­dul­lah agree on form­ing a new govern­ment. Speak­ing to re­porters aboard his plane on the re­turn flight home, Pom­peo said he was hope­ful the two ri­vals “will get their act to­gether and we won’t have to” cut the as­sis­tance. “But we’re pre­pared to do that,” he said.

Ear­lier, he said Ghani and Ab­dul­lah’s “leadership fail­ure poses a di­rect threat to U.S. na­tional in­ter­ests.” Apart from re­duc­ing as­sis­tance by $1 bil­lion this year, an­other $1 bil­lion will be cut in 2021 if the bick­er­ing con­tin­ued, Pom­peo said.

Ghani seemed un­fazed, though his govern­ment cov­ers barely 25% of its bud­get, ac­cord­ing to John Sopko, U.S. In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghanista­n Re­con­struc­tion. More than 75% of all ex­penses, in­clud­ing the run­ning of govern­ment min­istries, is cov­ered by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Sopko’s reg­u­lar re­ports have also crit­i­cized the Afghan govern­ment for wide­spread cor­rup­tion and Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional has ranked Afghanista­n among the most cor­rupt,at 173 out of 180 coun­tries. The United States alone pays $4 bil­lion an­nu­ally to­ward Afghanista­n’s se­cu­rity forces.

Sep­i­dar

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pom­peo (right) meets with Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah (left), the main po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent of Afghanista­n Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani.

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