Switzerland considers possible Afghanistan conference

Protesters attend an anti-Taliban march in London on August 21, 2021. Keystone / Neil Hall

Switzerland is investigating the possibility of hosting an international conference on Afghanistan on Swiss soil, according to a news report.

This content was published on August 22, 2021 - 11:19
NZZ am Sonntag/sb

The NZZ am Sonntag wrote on SundayExternal link that Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis had tasked State Secretary Livia Leu with analysing whether such a meeting could help the current crisis in Afghanistan and with determining a specific objective for a conference. Unnamed sources told the paper that international talks had already taken place on the matter.

The paper said an international conference could have various aims: a donor meeting, the setting up of a humanitarian corridor or negotiations with the Taliban.

The foreign ministry refused to comment on the specific options. However, spokesperson Valentin Clivaz confirmed Switzerland's interest in playing an active role.

“Talks between the Taliban and the former Afghan government are continuing in Afghanistan… Switzerland has been in contact with all actors for many years and has access to them,” he said.

“Switzerland stands ready to provide its good offices, whether as a host state for the organisation of international meetings or to facilitate talks.”

The foreign ministry made a similar public declaration on Friday in a press releaseExternal link. The foreign ministry recalled that Switzerland had been a participant in the meetings of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan and had hosted two major donor conferences for Afghanistan in Geneva in 2018 and 2020.

Priority country

Afghanistan is a priority country for Swiss development cooperation. Over the past 20 years Switzerland has invested around CHF500 million ($545 million) in the central Asian country, SonntagsBlick and SonntagsZeitung reported on Sunday.

Switzerland opened a cooperation office in 2002 to assist the Afghan population. It initially provided humanitarian aid in the form of medical assistance. In recent years the focus switched to reconstruction efforts, education activities and support to agricultural projects. Since 2015, Switzerland has regularly donated over CHF30 million a year.

Thousands of foreigners and Afghans working for embassies and international aid groups have been evacuated from Kabul airport since Taliban insurgents entered the capital a week ago.

Last weekend six members of the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC), who oversaw programmes, were airlifted to safety by the German embassy in Kabul due to the worsening situation. The Swiss cooperation office in the capital was closed last Sunday. Switzerland does not have an embassy in Kabul. The Swiss embassy in Pakistan covers Afghanistan.

Switzerland is currently focusing its efforts on evacuating around 35 Swiss nationals and around 230 locals who worked on Swiss projects in Afghanistan, together with their relatives. The foreign ministry said on Friday that so far 14 Swiss citizens had been able to reach Switzerland, thanks to flights operated by Germany and the US.

A SWISS charter flight set to go to Uzbekistan on Saturday to help with the evacuation effort from neighbouring Afghanistan was postponed due to the worsening security in Kabul.

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