The UN humanitarian response in Afghanistan spans fifteen years during which humanitarianism has waxed and waned. A retrospective look at this period provides insights on an interesting range of approaches and respect/disrespect for basic humanitarian principles. Afghanistan shows, for example, that definitions of what was “humanitarian” have expanded and contracted to suit particular political contexts. During the Taliban period the definition of humanitarian action was extremely wide and covered rehabilitation and even development activities; post–September 11 we see a dangerous level of contraction that compromises the application of its basic principles for the sake of pursuing nationbuilding activities in the service of political agendas.
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