KUNDUZ -- Dozens of Sar-e-Pul Province residents, including women and religious scholars, gathered on April 9 to call on the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and help in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
"We ask the Taliban to take the coronavirus seriously and agree to a ceasefire for the sake of saving lives and livelihoods so that together we can fight the disease," said Niamatullah Samim, a resident of Sar-e Pul Province and a participant at the meeting.
"It is not the time to fight [each other]. You have to lay down your weapons and join the fight against the virus," Samim said, addressing the militants.
The combat against COVID-19 will be effective only if there is an end to the violence and bloodshed in society, said Azizurrahman Rahmani, a writer in Sar-e-Pul Province.
"We call on the Taliban to join the peace process and stop fighting and stop the bloodshed," said Rahmani.
"We have a slogan here, which is, 'If you don't take the coronavirus seriously, it will take you seriously,'" he said.
The public should pay close attention to guidance from public health authorities on the coronavirus and co-operate with the government, emphasised Maulawi Muhammad Yaqob Omari, a religious scholar in Sar-e-Pul Province.
"My message to Muslims is that they have to comply with health instructions from doctors," he said.
"We, all the religious scholars in Sar-e Pul Province, called on worshippers during Friday sermons to quarantine themselves in order to stop the spread of this dangerous virus," he added.
Omari asked the Taliban to renounce violence and to work on fighting the virus in areas under their control.
Threat to Taliban members' own families
If fighting continues, doctors and health workers will not be able to go to areas under the Taliban's control because of their fear of being caught up in the violence, said participants of the meeting.
That problem will result in residents, including family members of the Taliban, having an increased risk of exposure to the virus in those areas.
"It is important that the Taliban declare a ceasefire at this particular time because we can't effectively fight this harmful virus without it," said Najiba Aslami, a resident of Sar-e-Pul Province who attended the gathering. "Doctors can't go to areas under the Taliban's control because of fear."
"The Taliban should now realise civilians' desperate situation," added Aslami. "The ceasefire is the only good option to prevent the coronavirus pandemic because it will allow doctors to provide health services in insecure areas."
To date, one coronavirus case has been recorded in Sar-e-Pul Province. The country has registered 58 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 665, Health Ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said Monday (April 13).
The local government in Sar-e-Pul has created a joint committee to monitor the response to the virus, said Abdul Qader Ashna, the governor of Sar-e-Pul.
Hotels, mosques and other public gathering places have been closed in response to the pandemic, he said.
"The assigned committee has carried out mass disinfections in all government premises including security forces' sites," he added.