As the world faces the coronavirus pandemic, Afghanistan is facing its own challenges. This is a complex moment, as we are fighting both COVID-19 and terrorism simultaneously. The Taliban are not to be trusted and they have violated many promises, especially the agreement on the reduction of violence. Currently, they are fighting against the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) in different parts of the country — the Afghan security forces have repelled every attack so far. With the support of our international partners, especially NATO and the Resolute Support Mission (RS) in Afghanistan, the ANDSF has had a few notable achievements of late. The Afghan security forces are experienced and well-trained to safeguard the country’s security.
The arrest, last month, of ISIS-K leader, Abdullah Orakzai, a Pakistan national also known as Aslam Farooqi, is a huge victory for Afghan security forces. The Taliban and ISIS-K, who share the same ideology and strategic goals, are behind many cowardly and senseless attacks — and incidents in which people have been tortured — in Kabul and other provinces. A recent example is the massacre of the members of our Sikh and Hindu communities in Kabul at their place of worship — a crime against humanity. It is said that when terrorists attack and slaughter innocent Afghans, they speak foreign languages. We are investigating the gurdwara attack — it normally takes a long time to get to the bottom of such a situation. But with the arrest of Farooqi, we will soon be able to comment on how the attack was orchestrated and pin down the assailants.
It’s worth mentioning that the Afghan security forces along with the RS have been on the offence against the Daesh militants since they emerged in Afghanistan, and we have dealt them decisive blows in the past few years, particularly last year. We have eliminated the organisation’s top leadership and our constant military pressure on the group has put them on the run. Hundreds of Daesh militants and mid-level commanders surrendered to the Afghan government in eastern Nangarhar last year and the Afghan President officially announced the outfit’s defeat. However, intelligence reports indicate that small terrorist groups, mainly based in Pakistan, are behind some of the attacks in Afghanistan, allowing Daesh to claim the credit.
The massacre in Zabul province last month resulted in the killing of dozens of ANDSF personnel. It is important to remember that ANDSF will make the leader of ISIS-K talk and his confession will reveal many things to the Afghan people and our international partners.
The requirements of the current situation are different. We must focus our attention on the pandemic. The first case was recorded in the western part of the country, in Herat province, on February 24. According to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) officials, as of April 15, there have been 784 positive cases, with 43 recoveries and 25 deaths across 28 provinces in the country. Herat has the highest number of cases, 284, followed by Kabul which has164 cases, and Kandahar with 90 cases. The spread is mainly due to thousands of refugees returning from Iran, amongst the worst COVID-19 stricken nations in the world.
The government of Afghanistan’s efforts to cope with the spread of COVID-19 are remarkable. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani extensively discussed measures to combat COVID-19, allocated national resources and coordinated the effort to fight the virus. The government of Afghanistan has provided $25 million to the MoPH to fight the coronavirus. Earlier, the government approved a contribution of $1 million to the SAARC Emergency Fund to fight COVID-19 in South Asian countries. SAARC leaders held a virtual conference on March 15 and emphasised cooperation and joint efforts to fight the pandemic. COVID-19 is a top priority for the government and the president.
The government has enforced a series of precautionary measures, including the closure of commercial facilities, in a continuous effort to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. It has ordered the shutdown of commercial complexes, shopping malls and public markets, except for food supply outlets. The shutdown also included parks, barbershops, hairdressing salons, sports clubs, swimming pools, schools, universities and all other educational centres. Islamic scholars have reached a consensus on checking the virus by closing mosques and refraining from conducting any gatherings.
The Afghan government has established a technical team that is working with the National Security Council and the Vice President of Afghanistan is leading the Coronavirus Task Force. We have many vulnerabilities, from refugees and open borders to the dearth of high-level diagnostic capabilities and shortage of good quality medical amenities. Thousands of refugees are coming to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia. We need regional and international cooperation. If we don’t control the spread of the virus in Afghanistan, the pathogen could become a great threat to Central Asia. Unfortunately, the WHO, like other UN units, has not contributed as much as we hoped in Afghanistan during this time. Their presence and investment in the country for the past 18 years has been questionable. This is the right time for WHO-Kabul to take proper action based on regional and international experiences.
The President’s strategy to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic has five key aspects: One, acknowledgement. We have to accept that the pandemic is a threat and requires everyone’s support and contribution. Two, that it can spread everywhere and to everyone.
Three, adversity. We are not at this stage so far, but we have to be ready for such a scenario. Four, we must support vulnerable people. We have plans to support them in times of need and in terms of their health and welfare. Five, recovery. How can we recover after the pandemic is over? It is sure to cause huge economic damage. The President has appropriate strategies which take into consideration all these aspects.
We anticipate the situation to get worse. We have to take action before it is too late. Compared to our neighbours and other countries around the world, Afghanistan is in a relatively better position at the moment. But the crisis requires actions not just from the government. Every citizen must also contribute to the effort. If we all do our part, we will overcome this challenge.
Right now, there is no cure or vaccination for this novel coronavirus. The only solution is to contain its spread and prevent serious repercussions on peoples’ health and economic systems across the country. Employing preventive measures like staying at home, taking care of children and the elderly (parents and grandparents, and those who have an illness), stopping unnecessary movement, shopping on behalf of the family once or twice a week, respecting the lockdown measures, supporting the government’s decisions and listening to the advice of healthcare officials.
We must thank the incredible nurses, doctors, healthcare officials, support staff, police and all other security forces who are working hard around the clock to fight the coronavirus and the terrorists. Those who lost their lives while fighting COVID-19 will be remembered in the same manner as those who lost their lives on duty in uniform, fighting terrorism to bring peace, security and stability to the country and our region.
This article first appeared in print on April 17,2020, with the title’ Fighting on two fronts’.
The writer is director general of secretariat at the Office of the National Security Council Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and former director general of Plan and Operations at the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Afghanistan
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