Wednesday, May 20, 2020


Keeping up with a wide array of human events is challenging in the best of times. That’s what makes returning to a forgotten issue, along the lines of “whatever happened to …” an engaging exercise. These are not the best of times, though, with the universe of customary concerns having seemingly been swept aside by a global pandemic. When the subject of Afghanistan once again pierces the gloomy shroud of current affairs, the experience promises to be not so much engrossing as nauseating. The update from the remote and mountainous domain is simple: more death.

It’s not the novel coronavirus that is driving the loss of life in Afghanistan, as it is in many reaches of the world, however. The South-Central Asian nation has logged less than 8,000 cases of the virus among a population of 37 million and fewer than 200 fatalities, according to tallies kept by The New York Times. Some places have remained relatively free of disease owing to superior medical ministrations; others because few have much interest in traveling there.

In Afghanistan, death is coming the way usual for its beleaguered citizens — at the hands of Islamic extremists who measure their religiosity with the volume of human blood they spill. In one of a recent series of violent outbreaks, the forgotten Islamic State (ISIS), which President Trump drove to the brink of extinction in Syria, delivered a loud reminder of its persistent existence when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest amid a funeral procession in an eastern province. The heinous attack killed at least 24 persons mourning a local police chief who, mercifully, had earlier died of a heart attack.

In a separate attack in Kabul, Taliban fighters shot up a maternity ward run by Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization providing emergency medical assistance. The attackers gunned down 24 victims, including nurses, mothers and, with an extra measure of depravity, two newborns in bassinets.

Reminding readers of high expectations for Afghan women expressed by first lady Laura Bush following the 2001 U.S. invasion, journalist Anushay Hossain writes at CNN.com: “Yet, today here we are, almost two decades later, with Afghan women and their babies being slaughtered. If they’re not safe in maternity wards, how safe are they in their homes, or anywhere in the country?” Sadly, not very.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had traveled to Afghanistan to witness the signing ceremony, condemned the attacks in a statement: “The Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice. As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism.” No less evident would it have been had he declared the sun shall rise in the East.

It’s all the more painful in light of the fact that the Taliban has supposedly joined the Afghan government as a partner in peace following a long-sought agreement the two sides signed in February. The peace pact was contingent upon the successful passage of a seven-day period of relative calm, but once the ink dried, the Taliban stepped up its attacks on Afghan security forces.

President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, signed a separate power-sharing agreement on Sunday, raising hopes for productive talks between the government and the Taliban. It didn’t prevent three more attacks within the nation on Wednesday, which claimed another 23 lives. Diplomats may have agreed to negotiate, extremists wielding AK-47s evidently didn’t get the memo.

The NATO support organization in Afghanistan has approached the intensified Taliban attacks by halting the collection of data on them. An April report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says the mission claims such attacks “are now a critical part of deliberative interagency discussions regarding ongoing political negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban.” Some information is more useful in its absence.

The Taliban has been focused on erecting an Islamic fundamentalist state in Afghanistan since the 1990s, and neither war nor peace nor pestilence has altered its course. As the world emerges from a coronavirus-induced convulsion unparalleled in modern times, the query may arise: Whatever happened to Afghanistan? Unfortunately, the answer will likely be that, largely untouched by the pandemic, the people of the Asian badlands have been free to face death in accordance with their custom: ferocious attacks with bombs and bullets.

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