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Afghanistan's peace process is in danger of unravelling

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Those of us who witnessed United States officials and Taliban representatives shake hands on February 29, 2020, were inspired by the political will for peace that we witnessed. Yet many of us have also recognised the inevitable difficulties in implementing the agreement concluded in Doha. But what we could not have anticipated was the two crises which would simultaneously threaten to derail the entire Afghan peace process: the Afghan presidential election dispute and the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, Afghanistan has registered 170 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths. While these numbers are low compared with what is reported from the worst-affected countries such as Italy, Spain, Iran, and the United States, given the limited testing capacity in Afghanistan, it is feared that the true scope of the outbreak is much bigger.

Afghanistan's health system is also underdeveloped and unable to cope with a large-scale pandemic. There are persistent problems with water, sanitation and hygiene and many Afghans live in communally shared, crowded spaces. This means that self-isolation, social distancing, and hygiene measures will be less effective.

Some may point out that Afghanistan's geography and the extreme isolation of some communities will likely slow down the spread of COVID-19. While that may help, there is an increasing flow of Afghan refugees departing Iran and returning to provinces across the country, which could accelerate the spread of the virus.

Since late February, almost 100,000 of the three million Afghans living in Iran have travelled home, with around 15,000 crossing on a daily basis in March, in spite of Afghan government pleas to Tehran to close the border. While the February 29 agreement between the US and the Taliban has likely........

© Al Jazeera