Despite the fact that the Taliban boasted of their readiness to fight the deadly coronavirus when it first reached Afghanistan, they are now struggling to curb its spread in their strongholds. The novel coronavirus has wreaked havoc across much of the globe, and its effect has been amplified by the lack of health-care and infirm writ of the state in war-torn Afghanistan. The Taliban are unable to control Coronavirus in Afghanistan, which is adding to the misery of the citizens of the country.
For months, Habib Rahman, a resident of a Taliban-controlled area in the south of the country, has been unable to test whether his persistent cough is due to the virus.
“I have a cough, fever and chest pain,” said Rahman, 32, who owns a grocery store in Helmand province.
“There is neither a centre here to diagnose or treat coronavirus patients, nor is there any effort to create awareness of the disease.
Lack of testing and insufficient healthcare compounding Covid-19 headache
Official figures show Afghanistan has more than 17,000 confirmed cases — including thousands in Taliban-controlled territories.
But an overall shortage of testing kits, medical supplies and a dilapidated health system were compounding problems in tackling the spread, said Ahmed Saeedi, an independent analyst.
Years of war have left Afghanistan with a crumbling health sector, hampering the government’s fight against COVID-19.
In an attempt to bolster their narrative that they can run Afghanistan better than the struggling administration, the Taliban launched a campaign to tackle the virus in March.
They posted images online showing insurgents distributing masks and soap to villagers — albeit without any social distancing.
In one image, masked militants wearing white protective suits check residents’ temperatures and explain about personal hygiene as a machine gun is seen on a nearby table.
The virus entered Afghanistan as infected migrants returned from neighbouring Iran, the region’s worst-hit country, and the Taliban ordered hundreds of returnees into quarantine.
In some areas they controlled, the insurgents allowed government health officials to monitor the virus’s spread — something rare for a group blamed for the deaths of dozens of medics over the years.
Taliban unable to control Coronavirus; leaves Afghans on their own
But in recent weeks, residents from provinces such as Kunduz, Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar — where the Taliban hold sway over large areas — complain they have been abandoned to their fate.
In Kunduz, where the militants fought a fierce night battle before a short nationwide ceasefire last month, insurgents have barred medics.
“They said they would handle the virus on their own,” said Sebghatullah, a doctor from a nearby district, worried about the residents’ lack of awareness when it came to personal hygiene.
Haji Qudratullah, a resident of Helmand, said he recently saw a group of Taliban fighters film a promotional video at a neighbourhood clinic, but they never returned.
“I have not seen anybody do anything to raise awareness about the virus here,” he said.
Taliban commanders insist they are helping fight the virus.
“People who are suffering from high fever, cough and body pain… are taken to Trinkot,” said Hafez Mohammad, a Taliban commander, referring to the capital of Uruzgan province.
Even during the Taliban’s rule in the late 1990s, Afghanistan’s health sector was hit by poor infrastructure, little international aid and underpaid medics.
A Taliban official confirmed that #Corona killed #Taliban Leader Mullah Akhunzada and that nearly all the Taliban leadership in Doha has #CoronaVirus. Can Corona bring peace to Afghanistan and end the war❓ https://t.co/o41sNWeBbU
— Diva Patang (@DivaPatang) June 1, 2020
The disease is also sweeping through the Taliban itself, with several high-level militants believed to be sick with COVID-19, according to international media reports. The group deny any of their senior leaders are ill.
Disease a divine punishment: Taliban
In his annual message marking the Eid holiday, the Taliban’s top leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, urged people to seek medical help for the disease.
But he also insisted the virus was caused by mankind’s “transgression against Allah’s religion”.
Taliban say coronavirus is “sent by Allah because of the sins of mankind,” demand medicine and aid from sinners https://t.co/raQTlg4q92
— Robert Spencer روبرت سبنسر रॉबर्ट स्पेंसर (@jihadwatchRS) April 10, 2020
To stop the virus, people should “seek forgiveness from Allah and stop violating his commands”, Akhundzada said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants had distributed booklets explaining how to prevent infections.
“Our mobile teams, using motorcycles, are taking people with symptoms to the hospitals,” Mujahid told AFP.
Coronavirus has the potential to be a fiasco for the Taliban
Experts, said the Taliban faced an uphill task.
“There is no ambulance or a professional team that can take their samples or treat these suspected patients,” health official Hamid Ahmadi said.
Residents, meanwhile, say they have little information on what to do.
“Many people are complaining from flu-like symptoms… we don’t know why,” said Haji Abdul Bari in Helmand.
“Nobody has told us about the symptoms of corona. We don’t know anything about it.” said the resident, showing that the Taliban are unable to control Coronavirus.
Coronavirus statistics in Afghanistan so far
As of today, the number of people infected by the Novel Coronavirus and suffering from the associated disease COVID-19 in Afghanistan has crossed 17,000. There have been 1,500 deaths associated with the disease. A statistic to take heart from is the fact that 300 people suffering from COVID-19 have recovered.
COVID-19 associated lockdowns have caused a slowdown in the international economy, with experts saying that it will shrink by as much as 6% this year. Estimates of its recovery do not show it recovering before 2022.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk