USIP is closely following the effects of the novel coronavirus around the world and we’re particularly concerned about its effects in fragile states and conflict zones, which are especially vulnerable to the impacts of these kinds of outbreaks. This week, our Scott Smith looks at the potential impact on Afghanistan, how NGOs and religious organizations are working to combat the spread, and what it means for the Afghan peace process.

Transcript

Hi, I'm Scott Smith, senior expert at USIP, where we're closely following the coronavirus, and particularly the effects it has on conflict zones and fragile societies. Recently, we published a Q&A on the effect the coronavirus is having on Afghanistan in particular. I invite you to check that out.

In the meantime, we received a number of questions from some readers on social media and I'd like to take the time now to answer a few of them. The first question is from Christopher Davis on Linkedin, and he asks: "What infrastructure is in place for reliable testing for COVID-19?"

The unfortunate answer to that question is: there's very little infrastructure in place. Right now, there have been only about 1,400 tests conducted in Afghanistan, showing about 80 people who have been confirmed to have the virus. Over the past weekend, the Ministry of Public Health established a new testing center that will allow for about a thousand people more to be tested per day, but this is a very small number compared to the 35 million population in Afghanistan, and given the vulnerabilities in Afghanistan as a country of war, a poor country, a country with weak infrastructure, has for the transmission and spread of this virus. So, this lack of testing means the Afghan government is very, very far behind in designing its response to the virus crisis, and it means that there's probably a lot more propagation of the virus among the population than we can be aware of right now.

The second question comes from Rafael Davis on LinkedIn, who asks: "What role are NGOs and religious organizations playing in combating the spread of COVID-19 in Afghanistan?"

One of the legacies of the civil war is that NGOs are the main service providers for health care, so the Ministry of Public Health contracts in each province a different NGO to provide a basic package of health services. That means that almost any effort that's being done at the central and provincial level to combat or treat the virus is being done by an NGO. The problem is, they have very few resources, and even in normal circumstances, there are a lot of complaints about the fact that people can't get the basic health care they need, or they need to travel very far to get it. So, there's no question that as this virus spreads unseen for the moment because of the lack of testing, it will put a huge amount of stress on the capacity of these NGOs.

The questioner also asked about religious leaders. It's not so clear. There's a mixed reaction. One thing I've noticed, however, is that the mosques are not closed in the way that we've closed churches and other institutions of worship in this country, so there are still people congregating on Fridays and other days for prayers. Finally, it's interesting to note that the Taliban have gone out of their way to issue a number of videos showing that they're taking this crisis seriously, and in the villages and districts that they control, they're distributing packages with sanitizer and masks, and giving people instructions on how to avoid transmitting or catching the virus, so you have a lot of different reactions, in different ways, in different parts of the country, but I think one thing they have in common is the lack of knowledge about how serious the problem is and the lack of resources to address it once we do find out more clearly exactly how serious this problem is.

The third question comes from Twitter. Abdullah Etlaiba asks: "Will the White House's preoccupation with coronavirus and the upcoming elections affect U.S. focus on the Afghanistan file?"

For the past year and a half, the U.S. focus on the Afghanistan file has been on a negotiation with the Taliban on the terms of our withdrawal from from the country. And it's been clear goal of the Trump Administration to try and disengage as much as possible from Afghanistan. The culmination of that effort so far was an agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban on the 29th of February to begin, within four months, withdrawing half of our troops. Now, that timing will coincide with the worst part of the crisis, the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., and the worst part of it, or the middle part of it, in Afghanistan. It's hard for me to see, with governments distracted by dealing with the corona crisis and with a large withdrawal underway, how, at the end of the crisis when things hopefully come back to some sort of normal, Afghanistan will be more important than before. I think in the end the withdrawal of the troops, the distraction, and the need for a peace negotiation, will basically mean that our focus will continue being: how do we withdraw all of our troops under a situation where the Taliban and the government are able to agree among themselves some sort of new political order?

Thanks, everyone, for the questions! Let's continue the conversation on social media at #COVIDandConflict and USIP.org, our website, where we'll have more articles on how we're covering this in Afghanistan and in many other countries in conflict. Thank you.

Related Publications

Four Lessons for Security Sector Reform in Afghanistan

Four Lessons for Security Sector Reform in Afghanistan

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

By: Jason Criss Howk; Andrew Hyde; Annie Pforzheimer

As Afghan peace talks in Doha move forward, a vital component to the success of any peace deal will be how Afghanistan’s security sector can reform to sustain peace after more than 40 years of violence, and how the international community can best assist. This effort would benefit from recalling the lessons of another time when there was need for a comprehensive reconsideration of Afghanistan’s security sector: the two years immediately following the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban regime. Despite the many important changes, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have undergone and a dramatically different context, key lessons from 2002-03 remain relevant to guide thinking ahead of and after a peace agreement.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Justice, Security & Rule of Law

What do Afghans think about peace? Just ask their artists.

What do Afghans think about peace? Just ask their artists.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

By: Johnny Walsh

Historic peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government began in early September, opening a window for peace after four decades of conflict. Afghans, overwhelmingly weary of war and craving an end to violence, are watching closely. This urge for peace is the most important force motivating the talks, and Afghanistan’s burgeoning community of artists articulate it especially powerfully.

Type: Blog

Peace Processes

Afghanistan Donor Conference 2020: Pitfalls and Possibilities

Afghanistan Donor Conference 2020: Pitfalls and Possibilities

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

By: William Byrd

When Afghan officials and international donors meet next month to consider future aid commitments to Afghanistan, they will face a changed situation from their last gathering four years ago. Then, the focus was on tying financial assistance to government reform in the midst of ongoing war with the Taliban; peace was barely on the agenda. Now, peace talks between the Taliban and the government have begun, and a new Afghan administration is still taking shape with an agreement that resolved the disputed 2019 presidential election. Meanwhile, fighting and casualties remain at unsustainable levels and the country is reckoning with the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Democracy & Governance

Whither Islam in Afghanistan’s Political System After the Taliban Talks?

Whither Islam in Afghanistan’s Political System After the Taliban Talks?

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

By: Peter Mandaville, Ph.D.

The question of how and where Islam should fit into future legal and political frameworks has emerged as a major sticking point in the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Qatar. How this question is resolved will be closely watched by Afghans, who want to ensure their hard-won rights are not sacrificed for the sake of a deal with the Taliban—Afghan women in particular have much at stake. The international community will similarly scrutinize the outcome, and their engagement with Afghanistan after the talks is expected to be conditioned on the contours of any political settlement.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion; Peace Processes

View All Publications