ICRC to continue work in Afghanistan despite troops withdrawal

The ICRC has been working in Afghanistan since 1987 and it runs its operation through local partners like the ARCS.

Updated: May 26, 2013, 10:34 AM IST

New Delhi: Even as Afghanistan stares at the withdrawal of foreign troops by next year, the International Red Cross Committee has said its 1,700-strong mission would continue to work in the war-ravaged country, notwithstanding the security threat.

The volunteers of ICRC, which has the biggest Red Cross mission in the world, will not leave Afghanistan unless it becomes "totally hostile", its Kabul team head Gherardo Pontrandolfi, who was in India last week, said.

His remarks came in the wake of last month`s incident in which two personnel of Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), the local chapter of ICRC, were killed in Khanaqa district of northern Afghanistan.
"Today and in the past we are able to work in the country on the basis of very fundamental principal of neutrality, impartiality and independence of aid so that we are not perceived by any party as taking sides in the political debate," Pontrandolfi said.

There has been widespread apprehension about possible security situation in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops pull out of the country next year. The security of the country will be taken over by 350,000-strong Afghan security forces after the Nato-led foreign troops leave the country.

"I am positive and confident that the situation will not turn hostile against us. Because right now we work with the agreement of all parties and I do not have any indication that come 2014, those who are on the ground and the powerful will change their mind as long as we do our activities in impartial way and we don`t take sides," Pontrandolfi said.

The ICRC has been working in Afghanistan since 1987 and it runs its operation through local partners like the ARCS. It has around 1,700 staff members deployed over 17 locations across the war-torn country.
When asked about last month`s incident in which two ARCS personnel were killed in Khanaqa district of northern Afghanistan, Pontrandolfi said the agency was determined to continue its operation even after pull out of the foreign troops.

Since its inception in Afghanistan 26 years ago, the ICRC has lost one staff member.

"We have 17 offices in the country and undertake humanitarian activities without protection. We are not protected and everybody knows where we are and they could target us if they want to," he said.
He listed civilian causalities, internal displacement and insufficient access to medical care to people injured in attacks by militants as well as counter terrorism strikes as some of the challenges faced by health workers in Afghanistan.

"Our focus is the needs of the civilian population and these needs of the civilian population going to go beyond 2014. Therefore, we will be staying in Afghanistan provided of course we get acceptance by all parties. We are committed to Afghanistan, its people and carry out humanitarian activities in favour of civilians and wounded no matter where they belong to and what affiliation they have," Pontrandolfi said.

Giving a glimpse into various activities of ICRC besides providing medical aid, he said the agency has been facilitating visits of family members of detainees lodged at the Parwan detention facility at Bagram in northern Afghanistan.

"We have introduced a phone system for families to contact relatives at Parwan. This reduces the need for them to travel from remote areas," he said, adding, "...The ICRC continues to support Afghanistan as does the international community and will do so after the foreign soldiers withdraw in 2014."
The ICRC mandate in Afghanistan includes encouraging dialogue with influential civil society leaders, to restore family links, assist the wounded and disabled, provide hospital care and improve water and sanitation services, Pontrandolfi said.