The Afghan government is under pressure to ensure that intra-Afghan peace talks, bringing together different groups including the Taliban, succeed against the spectre of rising coronavirus infections and declining food stocks.
The country is witnessing a sudden influx of Afghans fleeing coronavirus-stricken Iran, spreading fear in Afghanistan that they could be possible carriers of the virus. Najibullah Nasir, head of the health committee of the Wolesi Jirga, the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament, said: “The Ministry of Public Health does not have the required facilities. More than 5,000 passengers and refugees are entering Herat from Iran on a daily basis and 1,000 to 2,000 others are entering Nimroz.” Both Herat and Nimroz share borders with Iran and were the first Afghan cities to report coronavirus infections.
In fact, the fear of coronavirus is so persistent on the Afghanistan-Iran border that India had shifted its diplomats and staff from its consulates in Herat and Jalalabad to the capital Kabul in view of better health facilities there.
The coronavirus threat looms large on the country at a time when the Afghan government is under pressure to talk with the Taliban to find a pathway for lasting peace. Talks with the Taliban have become necessary as the US and Taliban signed an agreement in February. Under the agreement, the US and its allies plan a complete pull out of Afghanistan by 2021. Sensing an opportunity to be in the mainstream of Afghan politics, the Taliban also agreed to negotiate with the Afghan government.
Stressing on the importance of a united front, Ingrid Hayden, UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, told UN Security Council (UNSC) members on Tuesday that Afghanistan appears to be “reaching a defining moment” and this is the time when its leaders will have to rally together to engage in meaningful talks with the Taliban to achieve sustainable peace. She mentioned the importance of the US-Taliban agreement, which will ensure withdrawal of foreign forces from the country and the promise of peace after twenty long years.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who recently took oath for his second term, has been in intense rivalry with his political opponent Abdullah Abdullah who had accused Ghani of election malpractices in September 2019. Ghani had to accept the US-Taliban agreement despite not being party to it. However, he has decided to flow with the tide and has opened up talks with the Taliban.
Afghanistan is currently on a crossroads with a warring political dispensation, the COVID-19 threat, and the frequent attacks on the armed forces which Taliban fighters carry out despite the peace deal with the US. International observers fear that if the pandemic spreads in Afghanistan, it can become a humanitarian disaster which the Afghan health services would not be able to handle.
With cities like Herat, Kandahar, and Kabul under a lockdown, people stocked up food and other essentials at home, emptying the shops and market places. There has been an increase in the prices of essential goods including food and medicines even though the country has adequate stocks of food. The closing of the border with Pakistan has held up thousands of trucks with food and other supplies on the other side..