Zeeshan — Aid agency quits Afghanistan over security fears

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compliments of Shobak
Aid agency quits Afghanistan over security fears
Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Thursday July 29, 2004
The Guardian
One of the world’s leading frontline aid
organisations, Médecins sans Frontières, is pulling
out of Afghanistan after 24 years because of a
deterioration in security.
MSF, a neutral group which depends primarily on
private donations, has a reputation for sending
medical staff into troublespots regarded by other
agencies as too dangerous. This is its first pullout
from any country since being founded 33 years ago.
The organisation, which worked in Afghanistan through
the Soviet occupation, the civil war and the Taliban,
said yesterday that the US-led coalition put aid
workers at risk by blurring the line between military
and humanitarian operations.
The surprise withdrawal is a setback for the Afghan
government and the US in their attempts to persuade
the international community that security in the
country is improving in the run-up to the
twice-delayed presidential election, now scheduled for
October. A UN election worker and a person registering
to vote were killed yesterday in a bomb attack in
Ghazni, south of Kabul.
Thirty-two aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan
since March last year. Five MSF workers were killed at
Badghis, in the north-west of the country, on June 2.
Before the attack, MSF had 80 expatriate staff in the
country and 1,400 local staff, covering 13 provinces.
The remaining 15 expatriate staff are leaving and the
local staff are being made redundant. MSF aims to be
out of Afghanistan by the end of August.
Vickie Hawkins, who returned to Britain two weeks ago
after leading the MSF mission in Afghanistan, said
yesterday: “While the security situation has
deteriorated over the last year, what is a new feature
is this targeting issue which has never happened
before in Afghanistan and this is what makes us take
the situation so seriously we felt we have to
withdraw.” She said the line between aid and the
military had been blurred since US soldiers, after the
invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, dressed in civilian
clothes and drove around in the white Land cruisers
favoured by aid agencies.
More recently, the Pentagon was forced to apologise
for leaflets dropped on villages which threatened to
withhold aid unless information was forthcoming about
al-Qaida and the Taliban. Britain has distanced itself
from this campaign.
Introduction by Nato of provincial reconstruction
teams, which are joint military-civilian bodies, had
added to the confusion. She said the British military
in particular was pursuing these operations.
MSF was unnerved by a Taliban accusation that its
members were spying for the US. Another factor in the
decision was the Afghan government’s failure to act
after an inquiry into the murder of the MSF workers,
which, Ms Hawkins said, had identified a local warlord
rather than the Taliban as being linked to the
Afghanistan is not MSF’s biggest programme but it is
symbolically important. MSF’s reputation for working
in almost any condition arose, in part, from pictures
of staff travelling into Afghanistan in the early 80s
with medical equipment on donkeys.
Ms Hawkins said MSF would only consider returning to
Afghanistan if the Taliban withdrew the spying charge,
the Afghan government made a serious effort to hold
accountable those responsible for the MSF killings,
and there was a reduction in the targeting of aid
On the row over blurring of the line between aid and
the military, Britain says the blame should be on the
Taliban and al-Qaida for targeting aid workers.
The Foreign Office said: “We regret MSF’s decision …
but we understand individual agencies have to make
different decisions on security.”
Guardian Unlim