In her post below, Alanna notes the critical role played by the International Committee of the Red Cross in facilitating the delivery of polio vaccines to Afghan children in Taliban controlled territory. As Alanna says this underscores the unique role played by the ICRC in Afghanistan. Most aid agencies–and the UN itself–have had to scale back their humanitarian operations in Afghanistan because the Taliban consider them to be legitimate targets for attack.
The ICRC, though, has been relatively immune from Taliban attack compared to the UN and other NGOs. Check out this chart from the Humanitarian Policy Group, which tracks violent attacks on aid workers in the field.
This figure measures global statistics of attacks on aid workers per 10,000 aid workers in the field. Still, in recent years most attacks against aid workers have occurred in just a few regions around the world with Pakistan and Afghanistan being among the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. Except, it would seem, for the ICRC. So why does the ICRC get special treatment from the Taliban?
My sense is that the ICRC’s neutrality is cemented in the minds of the Taliban through the organization’s role in facilitating the communications of Taliban prisoners held by Americans. Of course, this works both ways. New York Times reporter David Rhode’s first person account of his kidnapping and detention by the Taliban mentioned that he received a letter from his wife, via the ICRC, during his captivity.
I, for one, am glad to see that the ICRC is leveraging its relationship with the Taliban to make sure that children don’t needlessly die from a polio outbreak just because these children happen to live under Taliban rule.