Swedish-run clinics stay shut in Afghanistan for fifth day
The Taliban and Afghan officials pledged to guarantee the security of public institutions such as schools, religious centres, mosques and hospitals [File: Rahmat Gul/AP]
A hospital and dozens of clinics in central Afghanistan remain shut for a fifth day after the Taliban forced their closure, endangering the “lives of thousands of people”, the Swedish charity running the medical centres has said.
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) said on Wednesday that 42 out of its 77 health facilities in Maidan Wardak province were closed after the Taliban threatened its staff to halt operations or “face consequences”, according to the non-profit group.
After SCA called for the immediate reopening of their health facilities, a Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the group would hold talks with the charity’s representatives before the resumption of operations at the medical facilities.
The spokesman added that the Taliban “doesn’t have any problems” with SCA’s activities.
However, Parwiz Ahmad Faizi, communications manager at SCA, told Al Jazeera on Thursday the clinics have remained shut since Saturday despite several requests to the Taliban to allow their reopening with immediate effect.
“This halt is risking [the] lives of thousands of people in the area; about 6,000 people are affected daily, including women and children,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We’ve sent messages to the Taliban, through a committee formed to mediate between our organisation and the group, to allow us to work. We’ve not heard anything back yet.”
Shafiullah Sharifi, the charity’s head of office in Wardak, said on Wednesday the closures followed a deadly raid last week by Afghan special forces on an SCA hospital in the Tangi Syedan area of Daimirdad district.
Five people, including two doctors and two patients, were killed in the overnight operation, prompting a call from the Human Rights Watch to investigate the incident and prosecute those responsible. Security forces also arrested a doctor working at the hospital.
Condemning the closures, Sharifi said: “Both Taliban and Afghan forces should be aware of the fact that the only people affected by the fight between the two parties are civilians, who are helpless and in need of medical care due to this ongoing war.”
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‘Civilian lives at risk’
Haji Waheed Akbarzai, member of the Wardak provincial assembly, said the hospital is located in an area that is under Taliban control.
“The Afghan forces raided the hospital because they received information that Taliban [members] were being treated and were hiding there.”
The same facility had also been raided in 2016 by Afghan and foreign forces, resulting in the death of three people.
In areas controlled by the Taliban, security guarantees are given by the group to neutral humanitarian agencies operating in the country, including the International Committee for Red Cross.
The SCA denied claims that Taliban members were hiding in the hospital.
Sonny Mansson, SCA country director, urged all parties to refrain from actions “which deliberately puts civilian lives at risk”.
“Forcing SCA to close health facilities hence denying people to receive medical treatment and health services is an obvious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” Mansson said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Afghan and international forces, including NATO, killed more civilians in the first three months of this year than the Taliban and fighters from other armed groups, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its report released in April.
Between January and March, the Taliban killed 227 civilians and wounded 736 others, the report said, in comparison with 305 deaths and 303 injuries attributed to Afghan and international forces.
The developments come after a two-day intra-Afghan dialogue concluded last week in Qatar‘s capital, Doha, where the Taliban and Afghan politicians, including two government officials, agreed on a road map for peace in war-torn Afghanistan.
In a joint statement, the two sides pledged to “minimise civilian casualties to zero” and guarantee the security of public institutions such as schools, religious centres, mosques and hospitals.
The Taliban, who was overthrown in 2001 by a United States-led military invasion, has also held several rounds of talks with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in recent months.
The talks are aimed at hammering out the details of a framework agreement reached in January, which includes a timeline for US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a ceasefire and a guarantee from the Taliban not to allow foreign forces to use the country as a staging ground for foreign attacks.