NATO calls for Afghan ceasefire over pandemic

26 April 2020

In a statement issued on 24 April 2020, NATO called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Afghanistan to help the country deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and move towards lasting peace. It specifically called on Afghan leaders to resolve their differences and “seize this opportunity for peace.” It criticized the level of violence caused by the Taliban as “not acceptable” and urged the group to enter negotiations with the team established by the Afghan government.

“NATO encourages both sides to demonstrate goodwill by accelerating the release of prisoners … and to embrace the international community’s call for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire,” read the statement.

“The continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgency of such measures. We call on the Taliban to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the Afghan people,” it added.

The next day, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed the NATO statement in a series of tweets. “They [NATO] reiterated the need for a humanitarian ceasefire to help manage COVID-19 outbreaks, urged the Taliban to reduce violence, called on the Afghan govt to end the political crisis, and said all sides should move more quickly on prisoner releases,” he said.

The special envoy said the US and international community want “Afghan leaders to put their country and their people first”. “How urgently and with what conviction the sides respond to these steps will determine whether Afghanistan moves forward or remains mired in war, poverty, and disease,” he said.

The statements from NATO and Khalilzad came days after the Taliban rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s call for a ceasefire during Ramadan, the Muslims' holy month of fasting.

In a televised message earlier this week, Ghani called on the Taliban to “stop killing Afghans during the holy month”.

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen rejected the plea, saying only the full implementation of the Doha agreement can ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan. “In a time that the lives of thousands of prisoners are being put into danger due to the coronavirus and hurdle are created in the way of the peace process and complete implementation of the Agreement, despite that, asking for ceasefire is not rational and convincing,” he said in a tweet on 23 April 2020.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan has requested international assistance in the fight against COVID-19. In the last few days, the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission handed over medicine and protective equipment to Kabul Police including 18,000 surgical masks, 18,000 gloves, 18,000 disinfectants and sanitizers, protective equipment kits and infrared thermometers the mission said in a tweet.

Further reading: ‘Political turmoil in Afghanistan threatens US-Taliban peace deal’, NATO Watch Briefing No.71, 30 March 2020