Need for ceasefire

April 01, 2020

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AS the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly march across the planet, acts of violence perpetrated by different groups continue apace in parts of the Muslim world, seemingly disregarding the threat Covid-19 poses to humanity. On Sunday, Somali militant group Al Shabaab — linked to Al Qaeda — killed a senior official in the Puntland region. The outfit has been held responsible for far deadlier terrorist attacks in the past and seeks to overthrow the government in Mogadishu. Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the government said on Monday that the Afghan Taliban carried out two deadly attacks targeting police and army personnel. Dozens were reported killed in the attacks. On the other hand, jets belonging to the Saudi-led coalition pounded the Yemeni capital Sana’a as well as a northern province on Monday after the Houthi rebel movement fired missiles targeting the kingdom’s cities over the weekend. The situation in Syria also remains precarious, though there have been no major acts of violence over the past few days.

Of course, even before the Covid-19 crisis erupted, the situation in these global hotspots was far from perfect. Because of conflicts involving a variety of actors — states, armed groups, terrorist outfits — hundreds of thousands had been killed or maimed, while millions had been uprooted or were suffering from malnutrition and disease. In this miserable state of affairs, the coronavirus threatens to cause havoc on a catastrophic scale unless wiser counsel prevails. Ideally, as the UN secretary general has said, there needs to be a global ceasefire to ensure all energies are concentrated on containing the virus. Perhaps leading Islamic scholars of all sects can give a joint call to ask combatants in all these theatres to lay down their arms and help save lives at risk from Covid-19. However, the fact is that while such a call may have an effect on the Houthis and the Taliban, which have political wings and are Islamist nationalists, the words of ulema and scholars will most likely be dismissed by terrorists belonging to groups such as Al Qaeda and the self-styled Islamic State group.

Perhaps the focus of the Islamic bloc should be to put in place long-lasting ceasefires in countries such as Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan in the wake of the coronavirus threat. In all three theatres, embryonic peace processes exist; these must be given a strong push by the international community, specifically the Islamic nations, in such times of global crisis. In Yemen, for example, if the Saudis were to declare a unilateral ceasefire, international pressure would be on the Houthis to respond and devote all energies to letting help get through to Yemen’s vulnerable people. In Afghanistan, the peace process suffers from fits and starts, but leading Islamic states can convince both the government in Kabul as well as the Taliban to cease hostilities and fight Covid-19.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2020