Afghanistan: Cooperation Office opened 10 years ago

Article, 09.07.2012

The Swiss Cooperation Office in Afghanistan celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2012. Subject to fundamental changes, Afghanistan is one of the so-called «fragile» states. Given this complex and volatile context, the SDC is stepping up its commitment in an effort to prevent the achievements so far from being undone. Elisabeth von Capeller, head of the Division South Asia, visited the country from 6–11 June 2012 and shares her impressions. Furthermore, the exhibition “New Afghanistan through Afghan Eyes” proposes to discover the many facets of this country through the photographs of young Afghan artists.

Although the SDC has been providing aid to the Afghan population for more than 30 years, it was in 2002 that a Cooperation Office was opened in Kabul.

«At no time has Switzerland’s presence in Afghanistan been in the pursuit of a political agenda or subject to strategic or military considerations. Our desire has always been to be active and provide support in the areas of humanitarian aid and development cooperation,» Switzerland’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Christoph Bubb stressed at a celebration in Kabul in the spring of 2012, marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Cooperation Office.

As a neutral nation with no colonial past, Switzerland has long since proven its unique ability to operate effectively in fragile, complex contexts. Today the SDC remains one of the few government agencies that carry out projects in Afghanistan without the need for armed protection.

Humanitarian aid and a long-term commitment
Although the SDC has been providing aid to the Afghan population for more than 30 years, it was in 2002, one year after the fall of the Taliban, that a Cooperation Office was opened in Kabul. The objective was to strengthen humanitarian aid for the benefit of the most needy segments of the population: displaced persons, returnees, and Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan.

Since 2004 Switzerland’s support to Afghanistan has taken the form of a long-term commitment to the promotion of development and reconstruction. The SDC focuses in particular on good governance, respect for human rights and the improvement of the living conditions of the most deprived and underprivileged segments of the population.

Successful efforts
SDC’s projects and partnerships in the provinces where it works have shown positive results: increased enrolment of girls in schools, soil management designed to improve resistance to flooding, income growth for several thousand farming families.

Another success story is the creation of communal bakeries in the Bamyan district, thanks to which 1000 families have been able to reduce spending on fuel and wood. By reducing the smoke in homes, the project also brought with it a health benefit.

In an effort to reform the Afghan justice system and police force the SDC has been particularly active in the recruitment of women as police officers. In 2011 more than 1240 new female recruits joined the Afghan National Police. In the realm of human rights, the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum (ACSF) has become recognised as an influential platform in the field of civic education. The ACSF has been developed since 2001 by the Human Security Division of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

Improving living conditions and strengthening local governance
Switzerland’s total financial commitment in Afghanistan for the 2012–2014 period amounts to CHF 70 million. This includes funding for the Hindu Kush regional programme focused on the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The main objectives are:

  • to improve the living conditions of the population
  • to promote conflict resolution
  • to strengthen local governance

Switzerland’s cooperation efforts in Afghanistan will continue beyond 2014, if the security situation permits. The SDC constantly adapt its activities to prevent the successes achieved so far from being wiped out in this highly volatile environment.

Return from Afghanistan
“The determination of the women impressed me”
Elisabeth von Capeller, head of the Division South Asia of the SDC, was in Afghanistan from 6 to 11 June 2012.

“With Afghanistan we associate terror, war and women behind burkas without rights or opinions. On our trip we had the opportunity to speak to many women who have been strengthened not only economically but also socially by development projects. In a camp for internally displaced families, we visited a group of women who had been counselled by midwives about basic precautionary measures during child-birth. The midwives examined pregnant women and discussed their concerns with them. The active, determined and very lively participation of the women impressed us – even here humour and laughter had a place. Whenever we met women in a protected space, we were made aware of how deeply they yearn for knowledge, appreciation and participation in public life, and how determined they are to satisfy this need. The projects the SDC supports are helping them.”

A fresh look at Afghanistan

Jeune fille sur une balançoire.Featuring the work of young Afghan artists, the “New Afghanistan through Afghan Eyes” International Photography Exhibition shows the many facets of Afghanistan today. The images portray an Afghan reality that differs from that generally found in the media. This travelling photo exhibition, which has visited 10 provinces throughout the country, is due to arrive in Switzerland. The first stop will be the Kornhausforum in Bern, from 17 August to 15 September 2012.

Information on the exhibition

Additional information