(Source: Foreign Policy, Ashley Jackson) – For the Taliban, the Pandemic Is a Ladder

The Islamist group is using the coronavirus crisis for propaganda—with potentially dire consequences for those living under its control.

In late March, the Taliban released an unusual video. Instead of the usual imagery of fighters in formation or training, the footage showed members of the Islamist group in surgical masks as they conducted door-to-door temperature checks and distributed hand sanitizer. A heavily accented voice-over in English promised that the Taliban health commission had the pandemic under control. The narrator claimed that the Taliban had established public health information teams, a dispensary campaign, and even quarantine centers.

This is but one example in a string of videos, announcements, and restrictions the Taliban have undertaken in response to the unfolding global crisis. Several weeks prior, the Taliban announced that returnees from Iran, where the virus was then rapidly spreading, would be forced to quarantine in their homes for two weeks. The Afghan government, by contrast, was facing growing criticism for having taken little action to screen the 15,000 people entering its borders each day.

Insurgents typically excel at exploiting state weaknesses and crises. (…)

Media coverage of the pandemic has featured numerous accounts of armed groups taking action against the coronavirus—or at least finding ways to capitalize on it. The National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia announced lockdown measures, preemptively justifying abuses against civilians by warning that the fighters may feel “forced to kill people in order to preserve lives” where they have not “respected the orders to prevent COVID-19.” Al-Shabab in Somalia and the Houthis in Yemen have blamed the spread of infections locally on their battlefield adversaries. The Islamic State issued sharia directives on hand-washing and preventing transmission but has also suggested the disease is divine punishment. (…)

Even if they create shadow governments or routinely capture aid projects and state services, few armed groups have the skills or expertise to provide health services all on their own. (Hezbollah, which has mobilized thousands of medical staff in response to the virus in Lebanon, is a rare exception.) (…)


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Photo © Taliban militants and villagers attend a gathering as they celebrate the U.S.-Afghan peace deal in Laghman province, Afghanistan, on March 2, Noorullah Shirzada, AFP,Getty Images, as published in ibid