After six rounds of discussions to divide control and resources, the country’s powerbrokers Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah appear more concerned about their political future than the wellbeing of Afghanistan. They have yet to shift focus onto the coronavirus health emergency or form a coherent response to the average 55 daily attacks by the Taliban, occurring since the US-Taliban peace deal was signed on February 29. (According to figures provided by the Office of the National Security Council over the weekend.)
The political stand-off, which came about following the disputed election results, has led to uncoordinated and blustering actions that may or may not be on the path towards negotiations with the Taliban, both in terms of the prisoner release and--more importantly--progress within the High Council of Peace and Reconciliation, which is tasked with leading peace efforts and establishing the framework for negotiations with the Taliban.
The Taliban is exploiting the dispute and pushing the narrative that the disunity in Kabul is delaying the peace process, while at the same time the insurgent group takes the opportunity to advance their footholds on the ground with violent attacks. While aggressively waging war, the Taliban is blaming Kabul for being incapable of creating peace within its own ranks, and for postponing peace nation-wide.
A similar perception is increasingly being held by the Afghan public, as they suffer under both sides. The political tension consumes the limited capacity of Kabul to effectively respond to the pandemic, and wears out the public which is being battered by a psychological war from multiple sides.
In response to the growing pandemic, the government has imposed a lockdown across the nation’s cities—with varying degrees of success – but a lockdown on its own will not be sufficient to mitigate the pandemic’s effects. As a stand-alone measure, a lockdown simply causes the numbers of poor and hungry people to swell, as the markets and day-labor opportunities have evaporated with the emptying of the streets.
Despite support from the international community in providing medical equipment, it is the slow or nonexistent distribution of this much-needed hardware--along with staple food items like flour, oil and sugar--that will result in increased acute hunger and a growing number of citizens dissatisfied with an internally- embattled government that they perceive as not caring for its population. Who is it they will turn to as an alternative?
Ordinary Afghans, whose main concern is survival, will continue to be the main victim of this political stalemate. A population already affected by poor delivery of services due to a dysfunctional, centralized decision-making system coupled with countrywide violence, will feel even more neglected and vulnerable during the pandemic.
The longer this divide continues, the more it will harm the government’s relationship with its international partners. Signs of frustration could be traced in the recent messaging of the EU and US diplomats and their other government officials. The need of the hour is for the Afghan politicians to realize the gravity of this humanitarian situation and display leadership by making bold compromises that will ultimately serve the interests of the people.
A divided government is its own worst enemy, not the Taliban or Daesh or worsening climate challenges. The impasse is ruining the credibility of the country now in its forty-second year of conflict, and the Afghan government is losing the support of a population that is looking for leadership in troubled times.
Arif Ammar is a former political adviser to the Office of the EU Special Envoy to Afghanistan and a strategic communications professional and media analyst observing the Afghan conflict for over 15 years. @Arif123@ammar
Karim Merchant is a senior researcher in conflict and development working in Central Asia for over 20 years.
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