The coronavirus pandemic brings back memories of living in war. We are experiencing constant uncertainty and stress, and there is talk of food shortages. My daughter is out of school, and we do not know when she will be able to return. Many live in fear of even going outside — and this is in Washington, D.C.
Afghanistan is now fighting two wars: One against terrorism and one against the coronavirus. The effects of the pandemic are dire, but they pale in comparison to the fear and struggle that have dominated our lives for the past 40 years of war. The recent heinous attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar make it even clearer that enough is enough.
In addition to the intrinsic horror of terrorist attacks, our war against terror keeps us from being able to most effectively confront the pandemic, and it is clear that the virus will not wait for a political solution. However, even facing the prospect of tens of thousands of coronavirus deaths and a crippled economy, the Taliban refuses to do its part and implement what Afghanistan so desperately needs: A humanitarian ceasefire.
As a developing country in the midst of a war with a poverty rate above 55 percent, it is inevitable that both the Afghan people and economy will be ravaged by the coronavirus and that its long-term effects will be horrific. But I fear that there will be long-term effects not just on a humanitarian level, but on an international security level as well. The pandemic is exacerbating poverty, and terrorist organizations provide an opportunity for Afghans to feed themselves and their families.
Poverty itself doesn’t make people terrorists. But COVID-19 is creating an environment in which increasing numbers of people have virtually no opportunity costs and few choices on how to provide for their families — in other words, natural targets for recruitment. Stronger terrorist networks would be detrimental to both Afghan and global security and would drastically hamper government efforts to fight the coronavirus.
Defending against the Taliban’s relentless assaults diverts resources from the government in a moment when we need to be focusing on our response to COVID-19, combating poverty and defending our people from the Islamic State.
It is imperative that all parties do everything they can to ease the impact of COVID-19 in Afghanistan, to protect people from sickness now and increased violence in the long-run. The Afghan government is working hard to contain the pandemic. However, instead of working to protect the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban has increased its levels of violence since the pandemic began.
While our government has honored the agreement and remained in a defensive mode, the Taliban has not. Since signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February, the Taliban have conducted 3,712 terrorist activities across Afghanistan, killed at least 469 civilians, and injured at least 948 more.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has reported that there have been 1,293 civilian casualties in the first quarter of 2020, including 150 children, with a marked increase in violence in March. During Ramadan, a holy month when even verbal arguments are discouraged, more than 100 civilians have been killed and hundreds more have been injured.
Although the Resolute Support Mission reports that civilian deaths are down 16 percent compared to last year, overall levels of violence have increased, especially against Afghan security forces. There have been only 136 confirmed coronavirus deaths so far, whereas the Taliban are killing dozens of people a day. The Taliban have always been callous about the loss of human life, and now is no different.
President Ghani had to return to an offensive posture in order to protect the people. If the Taliban are serious about peace, they must enter peace talks soon and become a partner in preventing cold-blooded attacks on maternity clinics and funerals, not an enabler. Progress is urgently needed. Every day that the Taliban refuses to enter peace talks or commit to a humanitarian ceasefire, an untold number of lives are lost to both the virus and the violence.
Afghanistan desperately needs a humanitarian ceasefire. It would not only save countless lives, ease the impact of coronavirus on the economy and prevent vulnerable Afghans from turning to terrorist groups. It would also increase the prospect of security for the entire world.
Just like the world is currently dreaming of returning to normalcy after the pandemic, I dream of a new Afghanistan where people do not fear disease and violence when going outside, where newborns are not murdered days after opening their eyes and senseless violence is not normalized. I dream of a country where peace and hope abound. This dream can be realized.
We need action, and the first step toward peace and security is a humanitarian ceasefire, which will save lives both today and in the future.
Roya Rahmani is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States. She is the first woman from Afghanistan to hold this position.