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Analysis: Taliban isolation makes Afghan earthquake response more difficult

Analysis: Taliban isolation makes Afghan earthquake response more difficult


Experts warn that with the isolation of the Taliban hampering the earthquake efforts, humanitarian aid is pouring in, and there is no rescue support yet, it is likely that the long-term reconstruction needs will not be met.

KABUL (Reuters) – A devastating earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, which killed at least 1,000 people and destroyed homes in remote villages close to the Pakistani border, poses the biggest challenge yet to the Taliban since they seized power nearly a year ago.

The hardline Islamist group rules a poor country plagued by severe drought, widespread hunger and economic crisis, and where the effects of decades of conflict are still being felt.

A regional branch of the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several major attacks, defying Taliban promises to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan once Western-backed forces are defeated and NATO soldiers are forced to withdraw.

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Now the earthquake risks exposing the limitations of an administration largely isolated from the outside world and sorely short of funds and resources.

And while humanitarian aid continues to flow, aid needed for Afghanistan’s long-term development was cut short when the Taliban stormed Kabul last August.

Adding to the Taliban’s anger, billions of dollars in Afghan reserves remain frozen abroad as the West pushes for concessions on human rights, especially for girls and women.

“The sanctions imposed after the Taliban takeover … and the economic collapse will make it very difficult to respond with necessary medical and food aid, and support for reconstruction,” said Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Center for Armed Groups and director of the Center for Armed Groups. An expert on the relationship between the Taliban and civilians.

So far, a handful of aging helicopters have been flying in and out of some of the worst-hit areas, ferrying the wounded and transporting supplies of food and medicine. Read more

The Taliban has appealed to the international community and several countries have promised humanitarian aid, some of which are already arriving. International aid agencies also provide support on the ground.

However, technical assistance, including specialized search and rescue teams that can fly quickly from abroad, was not deployed until Thursday.

According to UN officials and a Pakistani source who spoke on Wednesday, teams from Turkey and Pakistan were on alert.

“The United Nations does not have search and rescue capabilities (itself) in Afghanistan, and Turkey is the best place to provide it,” said Deputy UN envoy in Afghanistan Ramez Alakbarov, who coordinates humanitarian operations.

We talked about it with the Turkish Embassy here on the ground and they are waiting for the official request.” Read more

Turkey and the Taliban did not respond to requests for comment on the case. A Taliban press conference in Kabul scheduled for Thursday morning has been cancelled.

It was not clear why the requests had not been submitted, though the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said Taliban authorities indicated late Wednesday that search and rescue operations were 90% complete.

Two retired Nepalese officers involved in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people expressed surprise that the operation might be about to end so soon, but one noted that if most of the damaged homes were small, it might be possible.

Volunteers from the Service Corporation load bags of flour onto a truck for people affected by the earthquake in Afghanistan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, June 23, 2022. REUTERS/Faiz Aziz

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Roads are hard to cross

The quake-hit region saw little benefit from the billions of dollars that Western nations poured into Afghanistan after the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001.

Over the next twenty years, new roads were built and towns and cities grew, bolstered by development aid despite an ongoing insurgency by the Taliban and its hardline allies that killed thousands of civilians and government soldiers.

Despite this, much of Paktika province remained under the control of the Haqqani Network, a feared jihadist group that is now a major part of the Taliban government, and so it has always been considered a high-risk area.

The lack of investment contributed to poor infrastructure in and around the epicenter, making access particularly difficult.

Reuters reporters in the town of Gayan on Thursday said local roads were unpaved, meaning it was difficult to negotiate with the rain.

The risk of landslides after the earthquakes was high, and many buildings in the area were poorly constructed, composed mainly of mud, making them more prone to collapse. Some villages are perched on hillsides.

“We cannot access the area, the networks are very weak, we are trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiya, a spokesman for the Taliban military commander in Paktika province, told Reuters, referring to the phone networks.

On Wednesday, Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the Defense Ministry had sent 45 ambulances to Paktika, while the Paktika province’s health department had sent eight ambulances and a team of doctors.

Larque added that heavy rain and wind hampered the efforts of the helicopters, which were reportedly unable to land.

Information from the scene on Thursday was incomplete, but the media quoted local residents as describing how they helped the Taliban search for survivors, excavating bodies from under the rubble, including those of children.

Aid groups said hospitals already suffering from malnutrition were now facing a massive influx of people injured in the quake.

In the aftermath of the disaster, some aid organizations called on the international community to end the Taliban’s isolation, arguing that humanitarian aid was not enough to pull the country out of crisis.

Some senior Taliban leaders are under sanctions on terrorism charges, complicating rehabilitation.

“The question is, is this disaster causing the international community to question the perverse costs of its policies to ordinary Afghans?” Jackson said.

Adnan Junaid, Vice President of the International Rescue Committee for Asia, added: “The international community … must develop a roadmap outlining strategies for resuming development assistance, providing technical support to the Central Bank, and ultimately unleashing Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves.”

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Additional reporting by Cecil Mantovani and Emma Farge in Geneva, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Muhammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul and Syed Haseeb in Ghayan, Afghanistan; Written by Mike Collette White; Editing by Nick McPhee

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.




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