Taliban leverages pandemic to burnish image as violence in Afghanistan surges

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Taliban leverages pandemic to burnish image as violence in Afghanistan surges

Decades of war, political chaos, desperate poverty and now the corona virus.

A perfect storm has accumulated over one of the most disadvantaged nations in the world, Afghanistan, where ordinary people are exposed to a new form of misery.

Taliban fighters have announced that they will continue to fight, saying that there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in areas under group control, a senior fighter in Ghazni province told NBC News.

Despite an increase in violence, Taliban sources in Ghazni and four other provinces, Helmand, Paktika, Khost and Nangarhar, have told NBC News that there is now an unwritten understanding with the Afghan government and international groups such as the Health Organization to help during the world Pandemic to work together, especially when it comes to testing.

The Afghan government would not say whether it is working with the Taliban, which has been struggling to overthrow the US-backed government in Kabul since the September 11 attacks in America. However, the country’s health ministry confirmed to NBC News that its workers are allowed to work in a militant-controlled area.

Volunteers in protective suits spray disinfectants on passing vehicles to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Rahmat Gul / AP

The representative of the World Health Organization in Afghanistan, Dr. Richard Peeperkorn did not confirm that an implied agreement had been reached between the Taliban, the government, and the WHO. But he told NBC News that his organization was working with “all parties to the conflict,” including the Taliban.

Propaganda videos and news published in multiple languages ​​should highlight the group’s efforts, although the actual impact of the work on the population is unknown.

Taliban health workers in Helmand, Khost, Paktika and Nangarhar provinces spoke to NBC News about their work.

In a video posted on a Twitter account controlled by a Taliban spokesman named Zabihullah, an official speaks on a podium flanked by hygiene workers in white personal protective clothing and spray tanks.

The voice-over in English states that the Islamic Emirate – as the Taliban call itself – is working to raise “public awareness” of the virus. The speaker’s audience appears to be practicing safe social distancing and sitting on widely spaced chairs. A later picture of vehicles in which the hygiene workers drive through a village shows viewers who have joined together without masks.

Another propaganda video by Radio Free Europe, a US government-funded broadcaster, shows men who are under the control of the Taliban washing their hands. In a clinic controlled by Taliban militants, healthcare workers in light green protective clothing distribute rubber gloves and masks while others test the temperature of a suspect patient with a digital thermometer.

A health worker checked a devotee’s body temperature as a preventive measure against COVID-19 at the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque in Kabul last month. WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP – Getty Images file

The Taliban health workers who spoke to NBC News – none of them qualified doctors – said that every area under the group’s control had a commanded madrassa or religious school that had been converted into a quarantine center, and said that the medical directors the group – known as the Health Commission – had ordered large quantities of personal protective equipment.

But in a rare moment of self-criticism, some Taliban members said their early response to the pandemic was poor.

“We didn’t initially know about the disease and didn’t take it seriously,” a senior Taliban health official told NBC News on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

According to the Ministry of Health, published by the WHO, there have been 8,676 confirmed cases of the virus in Afghanistan and 193 deaths. The number of cases is expected to increase.

The United Nations agency for humanitarian affairs, OCHA, reported that by mid-May nine test laboratories operated across the country, but none within the Taliban-controlled territory, and it was not clear how big the difference between the militants was . Corona virus efforts made.

Afghan cyclist Idrees Syawash, 27, speaks to residents during his awareness campaign against COVID-19 in Surkh Rod District, Nangarhar province, on Tuesday. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP – Getty Images

Said Ekram, 28, a medical student visiting a family in northern Kunduz Province, told NBC News that normal life in Taliban-controlled areas has changed little despite the coronavirus outbreak.

“Prayers are usually held in the mosques and weddings are usually attended,” he said, adding that no one in the area wore masks or gloves, no awareness program was started, and only people who came from abroad, such as hit Iran, will be checked for health problems.

‘It’s a mess’

To alleviate the effects of the corona virus, the Taliban is facing a health crisis many years before the pandemic.

Afghanistan ranks 168th in child mortality, 176th in maternal mortality and 173rd in life expectancy of all citizens, according to the latest World Bank data available.

And, according to Kate Clark, the co-director of the independent and nonprofit research group, the Afghan Analysts Network, a lock to protect health systems that are “poor to nonexistent” makes little sense in the hand -mouth subsistence economy,

“Some districts don’t have doctors,” she said. “It’s confusing. It’s a mess.”

But in Helmand province, residents said Taliban officials oversee government-run hospitals, and that this had some benefits during a health crisis.

“Believe me, doctors and other health workers are very punctual when they are managed by the Taliban,” said Abul Khaliq, who lives in Helmands Marja.

The Taliban have long been known to use intimidation and fear to maintain order in the areas they control, but some residents and local officials have also tended to view their administration as more efficient and less corrupt.

Ashley Jackson, a research associate at the Overseas Development Institute who has done extensive work in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, said she understood from conversations with friends in the north of the country that the Taliban was doing little locally

They were “smart and fairly creative” in their propaganda about pandemic responses – far more than the Afghan government, she added.

But like others who spoke to NBC News, Jackson said the most useful weapon the Taliban could offer to fight the outbreak was an end to the fight.

Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Ahmed Mengli from Kabul and Willem Marx and Alex Holmes from London.

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