This week the Taliban announced that it has lifted its ban on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and resumed protection of this staff in areas of high violence throughout Afghanistan. According to NPR, the ICRC is one of the most active humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan today. In this war-torn area, there are other humanitarian groups, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), which recently focused on a vaccination campaign to eradicate polio. Alongside public health efforts such as those of the WHO, the ICRC also runs clinics across Afghanistan and supplies medical kits and first aid training to Taliban soldiers.
The ICRC has received much rebuke, specifically for its first aid training and medical kits. According to The Guardian, one leading figure in Afghanistan commented, “the Taliban did not deserve to be treated like humans…they are like animals.” In response, the ICRC both provides its practical reasoning and reminds people of its mission of total neutrality. This promise of neutrality is also fulfilled in the operations of its clinics; an ICRC staff said to NPR, “We never ask people who come about their background. This is the way we work everywhere in Afghanistan and all over the world.”
Why would the Taliban ban this organization that restores human dignity through the service of medicine to so many members of their community? The Telegraph reports that the Taliban has made complaints against the ICRC for the living conditions of their imprisoned men in Pul-e-Charkhi, one of the area’s largest detainment facilities. The lack of action on the ICRC’s part to ensure that the rights of these prisoners are upheld makes the Taliban suspicious of its claimed neutrality.
According to The Telegraph, the Taliban stated that “the International Red Cross however has not made any arrangements to treat the prisoners or demand the prison officials provide proper medical care to the patients,” and that the Taliban will, therefore, no longer “guarantee the protection of their lives and property until they come to an agreement and with [the Taliban] to correct their actions.” This ban on medical help for multitudes of soldiers in need was in place for five months before it was rescinded this week.
The ramifications of this five-month pause in the ICRC’s activity in Afghanistan are not necessarily something that the media would cover. However, it is only fair to assume that the high levels of fatality in war will have only surged with even less medical attention that comes with the ICRC’s absence in Afghanistan. With the ban now finally lifted and protection restored, lives can now continue to be saved on both fronts: in one way, the soldiers can continue to receive treatment at ICRC clinics, and in another, the ICRC staff can remain safe as they do this sacrificial task.
The question of whether these Taliban fighters “deserve” medical attention is inherently controversial. While the aforementioned quote vocalizes the position that they do not deserve medical attention because “they are like animals,” a NATO spokesman from NATO holds a different position. Reporting to the Guardian, he said, “NATO has tremendous respect for the humanitarian work carried out by the ICRC and we recognize the need for this work to be carried out impartially.”
This impartiality that the ICRC is commended for, and the neutrality that it commits its mission to is paving a path for peace in this divided region as well as others just like it around the world. It embraces the equality of the human person and upholds their dignity through medical services in places where it has long been forgotten. Thus, with the rescinding of this ban, there is finally hope for peace.