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Lockdown Extension: Afghan Government Calculus to Decide Should Reflect Ground Realities

By Mohammed Gul SAHIBBZADA

The Government decision to extend lockdown for another three weeks has resulted in a range of reactions on social networks and media outlets across the country from people in different strata of society. Most people believe the Government decision to ban movement of people – including those who attend to work in offices, factories and daily labor bound market – is haphazard and not based on careful calculation and study of ground realities in the country.

More than sixty percent of population in Afghanistan are living under the line of poverty defined by the United Nation Organization. In this backdrop, and keeping in view dynamics of spread of Coronavirus in the country and the ensuing fatalities, Afghan Government should focus more on establishing better screening and testing facilities across the country, with more focus on border crossings from Iran and Pakistan. For the people of daily wages laborers under-privileged families, Government should plan for free distribution of essential commodities by tasking Governors across the country – including Kabul province – to identify and record the most vulnerable families for assistance, and this should have started during the first round of lockdown. Though late, it is still the most important task for Afghan Government to focus on feeding and staying in touch with vulnerable families. Without taking stock of the last three weeks or sharing any reports of the effects of last three weeks on people, businesses, economy and vulnerable families, the Government simply announced extension of lockdown for another three weeks.   

Main cause for Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was due to unchecked influx of repatriating refugees from Iran, the Islamic Republic. Afghan refugees living in Iran took fright due to fast spreading killer disease, COVID-19, in Iran and flocked in thousands to return to Afghanistan. Many tens of thousands had already crossed into the country before Afghan Government took notice of the danger this huge influx of refugees poses to the people here.

The current rate of COVID-19 disease is getting momentum, but fatalities still remain in modest state. International community has pledged and extended assistance in tens of millions of US dollar without Afghan Government submitting a plan or proposal for intervention. Few hospitals are designated for COVID-19 patients across the country, but latest social media reports stream videos of these medical facilities to lack attending doctors and equipment. People contracting COVID-19 complain of being pushed to isolation in homes, but without ‘a bit of care and / or follow-up by Government designated health personnel’. To express it at its best, the Government seems to double down on general rhetoric resorted by all Governments across the globe, ‘stay at home and keep social distancing’ without bothering to take remedial steps that can effectively stop or reduce spread of the Coronavirus. The whole nation witnessed hotchpotch management of repatriating Afghan refugees at Torkham border crossing by provincial Government in Nangarhar. Though recrimination followed by officials, this saga demonstrated weak and ineffective management of the ongoing crisis.

Afghanistan does not have a strong and organized economy, which is most vulnerable to major shocks, the COVID-19 type global curse. In these challenging times, the Government should put in place a strategy with many  moving parts, including prevention and spread of COVID-19, extension of assistance to vulnerable families and low-income section of the society; and to manage partial opening of the country by allowing certain industries to operate and have participants to follow strict hygienic and health related instructions. By adopting these measures, major social misshapes and resentments can be avoided. At this point in time, it is the most important tasks for the Government to focus to intervene and manage the above mentioned three major areas. Without heeding to risks involved in the present handling of ongoing situation, the Government is paving the way for unprecedented social and political upheavals with dangerous and unknown consequences.

Giving leave to Government officials across the board will not have bad effects on economy and services in the country, but in lieu it will result in improved image of the country globally for reduction in corruption. Since Afghanistan economy is run on international assistance, it is believed that lack of effective plan in place for industries and different sectors of economy to continue to operate under current circumstances cements this belief. It is need of the moment for Government and all political forces in the country to set aside their differences and settle on a single platform to respond to present crises unleashed by the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

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