Switzerland in Afghanistan

Cooperation between Afghanistan and Switzerland did not just start in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. In the early seventies, the SDC already sent specialists to northern Afghanistan to teach farmers how to produce cheese. At the same time, other Swiss specialists were involved in water projects. After the invasion by Soviet troops in 1979, however, the SDC withdrew from Afghanistan and resumed its work in the early 1990s from its base in Pakistan.

During the eighties and nineties, Switzerland provided humanitarian assistance to mainly internally displaced persons and Afghans refugees through multilateral channels such as UNHCR, WFP and ICRC in the country as well as in Pakistan and Iran. Starting in 1997, Switzerland actively participated in the Afghanistan Support Group (ASG), a donor aid coordination mechanism that existed until 2001.

In 2002, the Government of Switzerland established the Cooperation Office in Kabul to support the stabilisation and reconstruction of the war torn country. Today, the Swiss Cooperation Office runs and supervises a development and humanitarian aid programme with an annual turnover of CHF 27 million (2017). 

Swiss Cooperation Strategy Afghanistan 2019-2022

In the Swiss Cooperation Strategy for Afghanistan 2019-2022, Switzerland aims at reducing poverty, human suffering and loss of life in Afghanistan by promoting social cohesion and a peaceful society with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions for all people to be safe and live in dignity.

In an effort to achieve these goals, Swiss interventions are aligned on three interconnected domains: 1) Rule of Law and Protection 2) Agriculture and Natural Resource Management and 3) Basic Education. Switzerland supports Afghanistan's pathway leading out of fragility and out of poverty by addressing interlinked dimensions of fragility. The focus is on interventions that have the potential to create positive feedback effects and reduce fragility across multiple dimensions. Small improvements will mutually reinforce each other and gradually set in motion a virtuous circle of incremental change: people who are safe and whose rights are protected are able to invest in socioeconomic development while improved socioeconomic conditions enhance participation in society and reduce factors pushing individuals to engage in armed conflict.

Domain of intervention 1: Rule of Law and Protection

Interventions in this domain mainly address the political and security dimensions of fragility and emphasise protection aspects. Under outcome 1 "Afghan citizens have improved access to quality justice services and their human rights are better respected, protected and fulfilled", Switzerland continues its support to the Afghan government, national human rights commission and civil society organisations in line with the objectives of the FDFA Human Rights Strategy 2016-2019. Under this outcome, Switzerland also contributes to strengthen the trust between the population and the Afghan Government by improving access to quality justice services for men and women. Through support to institutional reforms of the justice system, its inclusiveness, transparency and respect of human rights will be enhanced. Particular emphasis will be placed on strengthening the institutional linkages between customary mechanisms, formal justice and human rights institutions within a coherent national framework. Interventions will target both urban and rural areas.

Under outcome 2 “People in need, especially displaced and conflict-affected persons, have access to life-saving assistance and their fundamental rights are protected", Switzerland contributes to life-saving assistance, especially to displaced and returned populations, through the main humanitarian agencies in the country. At the policy level, Switzerland advocates for the protection and long-term reintegration of internally displaced persons and returnees as well as for improved access to people in need of assistance

Domain of intervention 2: Agriculture and Natural Resource Management

Interventions in agriculture, rural development and natural resource management mainly address the economic, environmental and societal dimensions of fragility and emphasise inclusion. In order to achieve the outcomes under this domain (Outcome 1: "Smallholder farmers increase their productivity and income, and food insecurity is reduced" and Outcome 2 "Smallholder farmers sustainably manage their natural resources and become more resilient"), Swiss interventions will strengthen public service delivery and promote sustainable natural resource management. Potential impacts from natural hazards and climate change will be considered and mitigated through DRR measures, where appropriate.

The programme will continue to work directly with farmers at the local level, especially in remote and mountainous areas where poverty and food insecurity are highest. Women will be involved to the extent possible in socially accepted activities. In its response to food insecurity, Switzerland will also continue to support the World Food Programme for the provision of food assistance and asset creation.

Switzerland will also strengthen its relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, in particular with the General Directorates for Natural Resource Management and Extension. Both entities play an active role in Swiss projects which contribute to create stronger institutional capacities – especially at the subnational level – and facilitate the feedback of project experiences into policies.  

Domain of intervention 3: Basic Education 

Interventions in this domain mainly address the economic and societal dimensions of fragility, with both protection and inclusion concerns represented. Considering the importance of education for social cohesion and economic development, the emphasis is on improved access and quality of education.

The goal is that girls and boys benefit from safe, equitable and relevant quality basic education. Interventions will be implemented in both rural and urban areas. Under outcome 1 “Girls and boys, including in emergencies, have increased access to safe and quality education", Swiss interventions will work at the local level towards promoting community involvement in education to achieve safe and conducive learning environments and increase enrolment. By supporting specific Education in Emergencies interventions, Switzerland will help vulnerable and conflict-affected children to access education and protection. Under outcome 2 "Education authorities, academic supervisors, teachers and administrators provide better services", Swiss interventions will focus on strengthening the academic supervision system to provide schools and teachers with guidance and support to improve the quality and relevance of education. In its policy dialogue at the national level, Switzerland will advocate for enhanced community engagement and improved linkages between non-formal education and the formal school system.

Approach and partners

Through its interventions in Afghanistan, Switzerland pursues context-sensitive and result-oriented development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. Taking into consideration the uncertainties of the context, a flexible modality mix is maintained (mandates, contributions, secondments, multilateral and bilateral interventions). Development and humanitarian instruments are applied in a coherent and complementary way, whereby development instruments focus on addressing structural challenges while humanitarian instruments address crisis-specific challenges. Governance, especially local and community-based, remains an important cross-cutting issue which is integrated in sectoral projects.

Experiences have shown the importance of embedding project interventions in the local context and aligning them with prevailing social norms. While social norms should be challenged, this needs to be done in small incremental steps with great sensitivity and modest expectations. Introducing concepts perceived as externally imposed such as gender equality not only risks to undermine the project's acceptance, it also has limited benefit and may even create a negative backlash. In this sense, while gender equality will remain a transversal theme in the Swiss Cooperation Strategy, it needs to be applied carefully and in a context-sensitive manner.