Afghan minister of public health, Ferozuddin Feroz, announced on February 24 that a patient was tested positive for the COVID-19 the previous day. The afflicted and two other suspects, who were tested negative, of the outbreak disease had been affected in Iran province of Qom. Only one was quarantined. Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health called for the border closure with Iran, which remained closed only for a single day. The Ministry also declared emergency in Herat province of Afghanistan and implemented measures to prevent from the outbreak.
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 had been conveyed to several countries from the neighboring Iran, no other cases has been tested positive in Afghanistan; while thousands of Afghan citizens return from Iran on daily basis. Afghans visit and reside the provinces in Iran, including Tehran and Qom, where the highest number of COVID-19 were recorded.
The question, however, arises that why the border between the two countries did not remain closed? Neither Iranian nor Afghan authorities have issued official statements to show that whether the Afghan government has opened the border to ease the challenges of Afghan refugees and citizens or Iran has pressured Kabul to do so. Practically, Iran has put Afghanistan in a social and political cul-de-sac through deporting the refugees lacking valid documents. As the border remained closed for a single day, thousands of Afghan refugees gathered across the border and urged for entry into the country. In the last midweek, two thousands of Afghan refugees were deported from Iran on a single day, many of whom were said to be drug addicts. Claiming, in a national media outlet on February 24th, that no Iranian afflicted to the epidemic disease in China had returned to Qom City and rather it was conveyed by Afghan, Pakistani, and Chinese citizens, Iranian minister of health sought to introduce Afghan refugees as a conveyor of the coronavirus to his country. Through his projection and finger-pointing, he appeared to be intent to mobilize Iranians’ sentiments against Afghan refugees, similar to those in the past, so that he could reduce pressure on the Iranian government and politicians.
Iranian officials seem to have been aware of the transmission of the coronavirus to Iran for several days or weeks, but did not disclose it so that it would not affect the participation of citizens to parliamentary election. A day before the election, Iranian officials declared the disease to exist in Qom City. The election was held with the lowest voter turnout, though.
From the beginning, the Iranian government has not been straightforward in their remarks on COVID-19 and kept Iranian citizens and the world in dark. The question is that will Afghanistan follow the bitter experience of Tehran regarding the coronavirus? When Iran was hit with the COVID-19, Afghanistan had had significant and historical days ahead for several reasons: For the one, Afghanistan Independent Election Commission announced the final result of the presidential election on February 18, declaring Ashraf Ghani as the winner. Meanwhile, 27 was set for the president to take the oath of office, but was postponed till 9 March. Second, the peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States was signed by the end of February. The deal carried great significance for both the Taliban leadership and the US, counted as the most significant landmark in the last two decades.
Now since the neighboring Iran has been changed into the center of the disease transmission in the region and beyond, hundreds of Afghan refugees return to the country of their own volition or by force on daily basis. With this in mind, how can you imagine that Afghanistan will not be prone to the disease outbreak except for recording one case? It comes as Iran’s neighboring countries, other than Afghanistan, and several other states have adopted specific measures to prevent the transmission of the disease from Iran.
It would be the worst-case scenario if Afghanistan intends to repeat the mistake of the Iranian government and distort the fact in the wake of political issues.