Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) strongly objects to a recent statement made by NATO  Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in which he implies that NGOs should be the “soft power” component to a military strategy. In conflict areas, MSF never works alongside, or partners with, any military strategy; our complete independence and neutrality is what negotiates our access to populations in need of emergency medical assistance. Statements like these from NATO create additional risks to our patients and staff, by suggesting that medical work is part of a military strategy. When MSF returned to Afghanistan in 2009 as the conflict escalated, it was with the objective to provide immediate and accessible health care, to people trapped in conflict zones. To reach that objective, MSF has negotiated with all warring parties, Afghan and International security forces and opposition groups alike, to keep their weapons out of the hospital compounds where MSF is working in Kabul and Lashkargah. Only then do people in need of medical assistance feel secure enough to enter the health facilities, as the absence of all military means that the structures will not be attacked by either side. The suggestion by Mr. Rasmussen that  civilian organizations such as MSF should in any way collaborate, or provide 'soft power' to the NATO forces, endangers this understanding and makes the hospitals, patients and staff more likely to be targeted by the opposition forces. Mr. Rasmussen suggests that Afghanistan should be the ‘prototype’ for engagement between NATO and NGOs. MSF calls on Mr. Rasmussen, as well as all other parties involved in the conflict, to respect the necessary distinction between political and military objectives, and independent medical humanitarian assistance.

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