ISLAMABAD - The Taliban says it has temporarily stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) from carrying out relief work in the areas it controls in Afghanistan and it has revoked security guarantees for their staff.
The Islamist insurgent group alleged in a statement that it has found WHO staff involved in “some suspicious activities” during vaccination campaigns, and that the ICRC failed to practically implement pledges given to the Taliban. The statement did not elaborate.
“Until further orders, operations of the two organizations have been halted in areas controlled by the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban), and Mujahideen will not be a responsible for the protection for the heads of these organizations,” the Taliban said.
Red Cross to begin dialogue
An ICRC spokesman confirmed the organization has suspended its relief work because of the withdrawal of security guarantees by the Taliban.
“Therefore, we are now in the process of contacting the (Taliban) to initiate a bilateral and confidential dialogue in view of the (Taliban) statement,” Robin Waudo told AFP.
There was no immediate reaction from the WHO or the Afghan government to the Taliban’s warning.
The insurgent move comes as an estimated 10 million people in Afghanistan, more than a quarter of its population, are facing “severe acute” food insecurity and are in need of urgent “life-saving” humanitarian assistance in the wake of continued hostilities, three years of drought and recent floods.
The Taliban had temporarily withdrawn safety guarantees for the ICRC last August, accusing the international group of failing to meet its mission obligations to monitor detention conditions in Afghan jails and provide medical aid to insurgent prisoners.
The security assurances were reinstated two months later following negotiations between the ICRC and the Taliban in Qatar, where the insurgent group informally operates its political office.
The WHO’s vaccination campaigns, particularly those against polio virus, are considered critical because Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where endemic polio virus continues to cripple children.
Insurgent attacks and counter offensives by Afghan security forces have intensified in recent months across Afghanistan, killing hundreds of combatants on both sides, inflicting civilian casualties and displacing tens of thousands of families. The Taliban controls or contests more than half of the 407 Afghan districts.