Afghans dare to dream of peace

A Kabul resident feeds pigeons. Many Afghans hope the US-Taliban deal will lead to peace after more than 40 years of war. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Updated 29 February 2020

Afghans dare to dream of peace

  • Week-long reduction in violence prior to the deal allowed people to visit their villages after years of displacement

KABUL: Having survived various rounds of fighting against militants, police officer Mohammad Mustafa proudly shows the scars he incurred during several encounters.

While he is ready to fight more if need be, Mustafa joins other Afghans in hopes for an imminent peace as a US-Taliban agreement is expected to be signed on Saturday.
“After so many years of war, billions of dollars ... we should come to the conclusion that this war has no winner but too many losers, all of them Afghans. We have to stop it and allow the next generation to live in peace,” said the 40-year-old officer who is in charge of protecting a government building near the presidential palace in Kabul.
While serving in Baghlan province last year, Mustafa and his men were targeted by Taliban fighters.
“We had run out of food, ammunition and water. We all kept one last bullet in our rifles, pledged that we would not surrender to the enemy and would kill ourselves if we had to. That did not happen, but I was hit by mortar fire.”
Another incident was a suicide attack on a police station in Kabul for which Daesh claimed responsibility.
“I still have two pieces of shrapnel under my skin. That incident was the most tragic because 18 civilians, all members of one family, were killed and I cannot forget it all my life,” he said.
While he says he would be ready to fight again, Mustafa, who has served more than 15 years with the police, believes it is time that all Afghans united to rebuild their country, which for decades has been torn apart by violent conflicts, the last one being between the US and the Taliban.
When peace comes, Mustafa dreams of sending his three children to university, as he himself had no chance to receive higher education. He would also like to travel across the country, visit its scenic Nuristan province, the archeological sites in Bamiyan and the historic region of Badakhshan, where the Taliban presence has been strong that he only knows them from books
Despite all his plans for a peaceful future after the US-Taliban agreement, Mustafa is skeptical of political promises, as he sees the main obstacle to peace in many of the country’s leaders, who want to “further enrich themselves and remain in power.”

FASTFACT

Mobile phone networks have been restored in the areas under Taliban control and only minor security incidents have been reported.

Hope is running high among many Afghans that a week-long reduction in violence prior to the peace deal, which started on Feb. 15, could lead to a longer-lasting peace in the country and allow people to have normal lives.
The partial truce has allowed some to visit their villages in rural areas after years of displacement. Mobile phone networks have been restored in the areas under Taliban control and only minor security incidents have been reported.
Sherzai Mohammadi, a roadside vegetable seller, has lost several relatives in the nearly 19-year US-Taliban conflict. Poverty forced him to quit school in the sixth grade as he became his family’s sole breadwinner.
“I am 28 years old now and all I remember and know has been destruction and killing,” he said.
“War brings calamity, devastation. None of my childhood dreams could be fulfilled. I am hopeful. I dream of being able to give a good life for my kids, to live in peace and enjoy life like people do in normal countries.”
Ulfatullah, a money exchanger in Kabul, said he has earned enough money and dreams of bringing his family members back from Germany, to travel and hike with them when peace comes.
“All people want is peace, not pompous or extravagant life. As humans we have this right,” he said.
Rahmatullah, a 17-year-old school student from Kabul, hopes he will be able to visit the grave of his grandfather in a remote village in Ghazni, a restive province where the Taliban are in control of several districts.
He wants to settle in the village and become a teacher. “I want a simple life, to be able to help people learn and build the country,” he said.
Shafiqa, a 25-year-old nurse, said she yearns for “women and men to have equal rights to study, work and serve the country,” something she has only known from family stories.
“It sounds like a fantasy when my father recalls how men and women traveled without fear at night on buses. There were foreign tourists traveling with them before the war started.”


UK epidemic is slowing; antibody test could soon be ready, say scientific advisers

Updated 4 min 15 sec ago

UK epidemic is slowing; antibody test could soon be ready, say scientific advisers

  • Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said there were signs that locking down the country a week ago had slowed the rate of transmission of the virus
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million people could die

LONDON: The coronavirus epidemic in the United Kingdom is showing signs of slowing and antibody tests could be ready in days, Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, said on Monday.
“We think the epidemic is just about slowing in the UK right now,” Ferguson told BBC radio.
Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, also said there were signs that locking down the country a week ago had slowed the rate of transmission of the virus. He said Britain was not in a “fast acceleration” phase.
Official data on Monday showed 1,408 patients in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) had died so far and there were 22,141 positive cases.
Britain initially took a modest approach to containing the spread of the disease compared with European countries such as Italy.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million people could die. Johnson has since become the first leader of a major power to announce a positive test result for coronavirus.
Vallance said on Monday the restrictions — which have seen public transport use fall to less than a quarter of normal levels — were already having a “big effect” on the transmission of the virus.
This in turn would lead to fewer people being admitted to hospital, he said, and ultimately reduce the total fatality figure.
Hospital admissions had already stabilized at about 1,000 per day, he said.
“It’s quite important — it tells you that actually this is a bit more stable than it has been,” he said, adding that the country was tracking France rather than the worse-hit Italy and Spain.
He said it would take another 2 to 3 weeks to determine the extent of the slowdown in the spread of the virus because of the lag between the rate of transmission and that of hospital admissions.
Ferguson said a third or even 40% of people do not get any symptoms and thought perhaps 2% to 3% of Britain’s population had been infected.
But Ferguson cautioned that the data was not good enough to make firm extrapolations.
He said antibody tests were in the final stage of validation and could hopefully be ready in “days rather than weeks.”