KABUL -- The Taliban's intensified attacks while the country works to stem the coronavirus outbreak show the militant group remains committed to worsening the lives of Afghans, officials and analysts say.
As of Thursday (April 23), the country had 1,281 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 42 deaths.
The Afghan government, civil society organisations and the international community have urged the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and focus on addressing the pandemic in Afghanistan.
"I demand that the Taliban respond positively to the call by the United Nations, regional countries, and the people and government of Afghanistan to stop hostilities and agree to a ceasefire," President Ashraf Ghani said in a televised interview on April 15.
"In the situation where coronavirus has spread throughout the country, the Afghan people and the government demand the Taliban to accept the offer of peace and ceasefire in honor of the holy month of Ramadan and stop violence against the Muslim people of Afghanistan," Ghani said Thursday (April 23).
Meanwhile, 70 local and international humanitarian organisations in a joint statement on April 10 called for a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban so that relief support can reach vulnerable civilians.
The Afghanistan National Consensus of the New Generation (ANCNG), a political movement formed by young Afghans, demanded an end to hostilities at a news press conference on April 16 in Kabul and called for a focus on the virus outbreak in the country.
However, the Taliban instead has stepped up its deadly assaults.
At least 23 members of the Afghan security forces and nine civilians were killed on April 19 in a series of attacks in three provinces that Afghan authorities attributed to the Taliban.
The assault followed a brutal attack by the Taliban on April 7 when the group abducted and then killed seven members of a family in Sholgara District, Balkh Province.
Such attacks and other moves by the militants have called into question whether the Taliban are really interested in participating in negotiations.
One of the pre-conditions for starting the intra-Afghan peace talks in the agreement signed between the Taliban and the United States in February was the release of prisoners for which the Afghan government has initiated the process.
However, those freed individuals were civilians, not troops, said officials in Kandahar and Laghman Provinces.
A call for mercy
"Our emphasis has been on a ceasefire in this critical situation," said Abdul Samad Formuli, a member of the managing board of the ANCNG. "Both the Afghan government and the Taliban should join hands and combat the coronavirus in Afghanistan."
"When the Taliban claim to be Muslim, independent and respectful of human values, and when they really want to be widely represented at the negotiating table during the intra-Afghan talks, they should then heed and welcome the calls by the new generations, calls by humanity and justice" for peace, Formuli added.
"The Taliban should have mercy on Afghans. They should come forward with confidence and announce a ceasefire until the end of the coronavirus crisis," he added.
"Unfortunately, the Taliban are as ignorant as ever and are holding on to their plan of the destruction and economic instability of Afghanistan," Formuli said, referring to a recent statement by the militant refusing calls for a ceasefire.
"If a ceasefire is not agreed to and enforced, besides suicide bombings and attacks by the Taliban, many Afghans will lose their lives from the coronavirus as well," he added.
While talking to a Syrian newspaper on April 15, Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban's Qatar political office, not only rejected demands for a ceasefire but also emphasised that any decision on this issue will only be made during the intra-Afghan talks.
"It is very clear that Afghans have been waiting for peace for many years now," said Farida Bekzad, a member of the Wolesi Jirga representing Badghis Province. "Poverty, hunger, frustration and the coronavirus are the main concerns Afghans have right now."
"There are no medical supplies in remote areas, and therefore the public is gravely concerned," Bekzad said. "A ceasefire must be enforced to allow the government to provide some medical equipment to those remote areas."
Fears of a coronavirus catastrophe
As the government steps up efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Taliban on the other hand are endangering Afghan lives by rejecting calls for a ceasefire and continuing their violent attacks, analysts said.
Afghan lives have no value to the Taliban, said Ahmad Behruz, an Afghan analyst based in Kabul.
"Hundreds of Afghans live under tough conditions in Taliban-controlled areas," he warned. "It can quickly turn catastrophic if the coronavirus spreads widely in those areas."
"But unfortunately, even now the Taliban are more concerned with gaining political leverage," said Behruz. "The Taliban think that with continuing their violence in these circumstances, they can increase their bargaining weight with the international community and the Afghan government."
That view is mistaken, said Gen. (ret.) Atiqullah Amarkhil, an Afghan military analyst based in Kabul.
On the contrary, the group could gain a stronger bargaining position by agreeing to peace, he said.
"What leverage did they [the Taliban] gain by fighting up to now that they will keep from now on?" Amarkhil asked. "If the leverage they are looking for is the establishment of an emirate, then that train has already left the station. It won’t be repeated; it's not possible."