In 2002, the Government of Switzerland established the Cooperation Office in Kabul to support the stabilization and reconstruction of the war-torn country. Today, the Swiss Cooperation Office is running and supervising a vast development programme (with a humanitarian component) and an annual turnover of up to 21 million Swiss francs (US$23.3 million - 2012). Switzerland’s commitment in Afghanistan is guided by its Medium-Term Strategy.
In the area of development cooperation, Switzerland played and continues to play a role in strengthening government structures, as well as local organizations and institutional development at all levels. It contributed to the first elections in Afghanistan in 2005 and supported the presidential elections in 2009. It has also contributed to building up the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, as well as fledgling civil society organizations. In rural areas of north-eastern Afghanistan–where the security situation has been stable to a certain degree–a number of international NGOs are implementing programmes for improving the livelihood of families and communities.
Humanitarian aid was at the core of the office’s activities when it first opened. It involved supporting returnees to settle down and providing health services. Humanitarian aid is still needed. Thus, Switzerland continues to support the protection of people at risk with a focus on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Over the past few years, it has contributed to alleviating the effects of a prolonged drought (water and sanitation, seed programmes). Switzerland co-finances the work of multilateral institutions and international organizations such as UNHCR and ICRC.
The Swiss programme is in line with the national priorities as set forth in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and is committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Both the development programme and humanitarian aid are performed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which is a directorate of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other Swiss ministries and directorates also channel funds for specific activities through the Cooperation Office in Afghanistan.
As part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss Cooperation Office acts as a liaison with the Swiss Embassy in Islamabad, but does not have consular duties.
Cooperation between Afghanistan and Switzerland did not just start in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. In the early seventies, the SDC had 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.
Throughout the eighties and nineties, it provided humanitarian aid programmes, supporting Afghans in the country as well as in Pakistan and Iran through multilateral channels such as UNHCR, WFP and ICRC. The programme focussed on assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons. Starting in 1997, Switzerland actively participated in the Afghanistan Support Group (ASG), a donor coordination mechanism that existed until 2001.