Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis opens Afghanistan Conference in Geneva
Bern, 24.11.2020 - Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis welcomed the international community to the Afghanistan Conference in Geneva on 24 November. Most of the major donor countries took part virtually in the pledging conference, which sets the development priorities and financial support for Afghanistan every four years. Switzerland has pledged CHF 104 million for the upcoming period. The donors' conference comes at a critical juncture with the Afghan government and Taliban having started peace talks in September. In his capacity as head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), Mr Cassis also held bilateral talks with his Afghan and Finnish counterparts on the margins of the conference.
Every four years, the Afghan government and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) meet with donor countries to set the development priorities and financial support for Afghanistan for the following period. This year's conference took place in Geneva. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, only representatives from the co-organisers – Finland, Afghanistan and UNAMA – were physically present.
Mr Cassis welcomed the international community to the conference on behalf of Switzerland as the host state and announced Switzerland's pledge of CHF 26 million per year for the 2021–2024 period, amounting to a total of CHF 104 million. Swiss funds are earmarked for promoting the rule of law, agriculture and education. Switzerland's contribution remains unchanged from the previous period. A total of USD 12 billion over the next four years was pledged at the conference, with some states reserving the right to reassess needs at the end of 2021.
In his opening speech, Mr Cassis emphasised the value of International Geneva in the field of peacebuilding. He also stressed the importance of peace and stability for Afghanistan's development and long-suffering population. Currently, the challenges for international cooperation posed by the precarious security situation are increasing. "This is a critical year for Afghanistan, but also a difficult one for its people. Needing help is not the same as being helpless however," stated Mr Cassis, who went on to commend the willingness of the conflicting parties to hold talks after more than forty years of war.
On the margins of the conference, Mr Cassis held talks with the Afghan and Finnish foreign ministers, Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Pekka Haavisto, as well as the Finnish Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Ville Skinnari, and the Afghan Minister of Economy, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal. Their discussions focused on the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, the future of international development cooperation in Afghanistan, and the conference itself.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and a priority country for Swiss development cooperation. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has an annual budget of CHF 26 million for its Afghanistan cooperation programme, which focuses on the rule of law and protection, agriculture and natural resource management, and basic education for girls and boys. This includes ensuring renewed access to education for children in former combat zones and supporting locally provided teacher training, for example.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Switzerland has quickly responded to rising food insecurity in Afghanistan by adapting its existing programmes. It has also allocated an additional CHF 3 million to help tackle the crisis in Afghanistan in 2020.
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