Taliban isolation makes earthquake response in Afghanistan even more difficult

A devastating earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, which killed at least 1,000 people and collapsed homes in remote villages near the Pakistani border, is the biggest challenge the Taliban have ever faced since they seized power nearly a year ago. .

That hardline Islamist group is ruling a poor country beset by severe drought, widespread hunger and economic crisis and where the effects of decades of conflict are still deeply felt.

A regional branch of Islamic State has also claimed several major attacks, challenging promises of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan after the Taliban defeated Western-backed troops and forced NATO troops to withdraw.

Now the earthquake risks exposing the limitations of the administration, isolated from the outside world and desperately short of cash and resources.

While humanitarian aid continues, aid needed for long-term development in Afghanistan was withheld when the Taliban attacked Kabul last August.

Further angering the Taliban, billions of dollars in Afghan reserves are also 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 incredibly difficult to support essential medical and food aid and reconstruction,” said Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Center on Armed Groups. Expert on relations between Taliban and civilians.

So far, a handful of old helicopters are flying to some of the worst-affected areas, carrying the injured out and supplying food and medicine. read full story

The Taliban have appealed to the international community and several countries have promised humanitarian aid, some of which is already coming. International aid agencies are also providing help at the grassroots level.

However, technical support, including specialist search and rescue teams that can quickly fly in from overseas, had to be deployed by Thursday.

Turkey and Pakistan teams were on standby, according to two UN officials and a Pakistani source who spoke on Wednesday.

Ramiz Alkabarov, UN Deputy Envoy to Afghanistan, said: “The UN does not have (its own) search and rescue capability in Afghanistan and Turkey is in the ‘best’ position to provide it.”

“We spoke to the Turkish embassy here about it and they are waiting for a formal request.”

Turkey and the Taliban have not responded to requests for comment on the issue. A Taliban news conference scheduled for Thursday morning in Kabul has been cancelled.

It was unclear why the requests were not made, although the United Nations Humanitarian Office (UNOCHA) said Taliban officials indicated late Wednesday that the search and rescue operation was 90% complete.

Two retired officers involved in the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake that killed 9,000 people expressed surprise that the operation could be so close to completion, but one said that if most of the damaged houses were smaller, then it was possible.

the roads pass hard

The region where the earthquake struck has benefited little from the billions of dollars that Western countries poured into Afghanistan after the Taliban coup in 2001.

For the next 20 years, new roads were built and towns and cities flourished, fueled by development aid despite frequent insurgency by the Taliban and their militant allies, which killed thousands of civilians and government soldiers.

Much of Paktika province, however, remained under the control of the Haqqani network, a feared jihadist group that is now a significant part of the Taliban government, and was therefore always considered a high-risk area.

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

Reuters reporters in the city of Gian on Thursday said local streets had no paving, meaning it was difficult to negotiate because of the rain.

The risk of landslides was high after the earthquake and many buildings in the area were poorly constructed, consisting mainly of clay, making them more prone to collapse. Some villages are high on hills.

“We can’t reach the area, the networks are too weak, we’re trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, spokesman for the Taliban’s top military commander in Paktika province, said, referring to the telephone network.

UNOCHA spokesman Jens Larke said on Wednesday that the Defense Ministry had sent 45 ambulances to Paktika, while Paktika’s provincial health department had sent eight ambulances and a team of doctors.

Larke said heavy rain and wind had hampered efforts with the helicopters unable to land.

Information from the scene on Thursday was weak, but media quoted locals as saying how they helped the Taliban search for survivors, digging bodies out of the rubble, including children.

Aid groups said hospitals already suffering from malnutrition are now facing huge numbers of people injured in the quake.

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

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

“The question is, will this disaster call into question the harmful cost to the international community that its policies are inflicting on ordinary Afghans?” Jackson said.

Adnan Junaid, vice-chairman of the International Rescue Committee for Asia, said: “The international community should … establish a roadmap that will enable the resumption of development aid, technical assistance to the central bank, and ultimately the release of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves.” Develop a strategy to do so.”