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Coronavirus influence on U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal

By | Rachel Brooks

Staff | Telegraph Local 

See | The New African Living Standard

Above, Voice of America broadcast of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s March visit to Afghanistan. The U.S. peace process could be affected by the ravage of COVID-19 and the complex politics pandemic-era Afghanistan.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the world, the U.S. withdrawal plans from Afghanistan hang in the balance. COVID-19 appears to have done little to slow the press of escalating politics in the region. Arab News reported on April 16, 2020, that the Taliban has rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s ceasefire call. This took place despite the looming threat of the coronavirus crisis. It likewise took place despite the release of Taliban insurgent prisoners, an action that was part of the U.S. mediation withdrawal agreement. The Taliban has accused Ghani of not following through entirely with the prisoner trade agreement the U.S. had mandated. 

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On Wednesday evening, Ghani addressed the public in the following message, as quoted by Arab News, 

“I urge the Taliban to respond positively to the request of the UN, regional countries and the righteous call of the Afghan people and the government, to halt the fighting and announce ceasefire.”

Spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban Zabihullah Mujahid rejected the president’s ceasefire call. He stated that the president had blocked peace by not freeing key prisoners who were meant to be released after the agreement was reached in Doha, Qatar late in February. 

Mujahid was quoted by Arab News as follows, 

“Ghani is creating hurdles on the path of ceasefire and peace. Instead of ceasefire, work should be done for permanent peace. Through this request, Ghani wants to use this opportunity in his favor. We are not fighting in areas where there are (COVID-19) patients and health workers (treating them).”

Arab News reported that, since the Doha agreement, the Taliban has forgone attacking U.S. led coalition troops. It has also refrained from conducting large-scale attacks on Afghanistan’s cities. 

TRT World reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has given the Afghan government an ultimatum. A peace deal must be reached or a full withdrawal will come sooner than scheduled.

Vox reported within the last few days that the coronavirus pandemic has not stopped the war in Afghanistan. 

Vox quoted a medic from the Baglan province, Dr. Sayed Shah, as follows, 

“This is wrong, and it needs to stop. Especially now.”

Afghanistan has been rocked by the COVID-19 epidemic, with April 15 recording 784 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths. The response on the ground of medics and observers believe the number of actual cases could be far higher than the reported cases. The current official report is that most of the infected people hail from the Herat province. Herat shares a border with Iran. Iran has been shaken to the core by the pandemic. 

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On March 31, USNI News reported that the compounded cases of both documented and undocumented COVID-19 in the nation, coupled with the continued political unrest, could create additional obstacles for the Afghani peace process. USNI spoke with experts who stated that, despite 18 years of war with the U.S. present, Afghanistan has still not defined “hard red lines” that determined the path to an Islamic theological and political peace. 

The COVID-19 crisis may exacerbate the peace plan, but the U.S. is still taking measures to secure it. The New York Times reported within the last two days that the U.S. in an effort ot save the peace plan will likely also scale back CIA presence in Afghanistan. 

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