The peace deal between the Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar is a landmark development since this has happened after almost twenty years of conflict, becoming the longest war in the history of the US. This resulted in large-scale bloodshed of the Afghan people. Afghanistan became totally devastated by war. Nonetheless, the deal is seen as a bold step by President Trump, as clearly he did ‘get it started,’ despite hurdles and criticism from some quarters. The effort is being viewed as promoting his re-election campaign in an election year. Ending the US war in Afghanistan was part of his election manifesto, however. Trump had reportedly stated in his State of the Union address in 2019 that, “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
It is an important concern that amid an international COVID-19 emergency, the Afghan government is not moving forward at speed to what was agreed upon at Doha, to enable peace and stability in Afghanistan to promote positive action to manage this colossal health crisis. The initial refusal of the Ghani government to the prisoner swap, as written in the Doha agreement resulted in the ‘intra-Afghan talks’ not taking place, which were scheduled for March 10, 2020 at Oslo Norway. The fact that the Taliban wants to talk to the Kabul government is itself a major breakthrough, because previously they had refused to do so, since they deemed it to be an illegal western-backed puppet regime. What is of great consequence is that a ceasefire is only possible when both sides have intra-Afghan dialogue, which is the need of the hour and a confidence-building measure. This was also stated in the ‘agreement’ between the Taliban and the United States. “A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations”.
Additionally, the ‘crisis of two presidents’ in Kabul was a delaying impediment for the talks to take place. Taking too much time to adhere to the peace plan alongside the infighting and any additional power strife could tilt the country towards civil war and ethnic divide, thus becoming a rather anarchic and difficult situation which no one in Afghanistan would want.
How can COVID-19 be accounted for in Afghanistan amidst this political wheeling and dealing? International and internal concern and help is crucial. Sadly, this requires money and a responsible approach by all stakeholders, and peace of course, becomes vital. Many rich countries are spending tremendous amounts to counter this lethal virus. But nothing much appears to be reflected in the war-ravaged and coronavirus-ridden Afghanistan.
The COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan are reportedly not at a very high rate. But then how are we to know, since they have a weak health infrastructure? There is said to be only one public health laboratory in Kabul which was performing tests to diagnose COVID-19. Its testing capacity was only fifty tests per day in May. Reportedly as of early April, only two thousand persons have been tested for coronavirus from and with the help of this sole laboratory in Kabul. And presently they have more than 34000 cases for the virus, across 29 provinces. Around 1030 people have lost their lives to coronavirus in Afghanistan.
It is from the onset of this COVID-19 crisis that Afghanistan has been without ample diagnostic kits, PPE’s, ventilators and monetary help. Reportedly, for every ten thousand people in Afghanistan there are approximately 1.8 physicians. But recently, the World Health Organisation, World Bank, Asian Development Bank have announced providing assistance to Afghanistan in the coming days.
Money and aid are definitely requirements. But what is really very important is that all in the country should unite for peace. This would help in overcoming the spread of this virus. The Afghans have a history of not recognising any occupation force on their soil. They had the Soviet Union withdraw. The other superpower, the US, is presently in an agreement to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The coronavirus is no superpower but a new international challenge. The Afghans should unite and combat COVID-19 forcefully. The international community must help them because they have been subject to conflict for decades.