This article looks at the tension between principles and politics in the response to the Afghan crisis, and more specifically at the extent to which humanitarian agencies have been able to protect themselves and their activities from overt instrumentalization by those pursuing partisan political agendas. After a short historical introduction, it focuses on the tensions around the issue of ‘coherence’ – the code word for the integration of humanitarian action into the wider political designs of the United Nations itself and of the UN-mandated military coalition that has been operating in Afghanistan since late 2001. The article ends with some more general conclusions on the humanitarian–political relationship and what Afghanistan ‘means’ for the future of humanitarian action.
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