A pandemic’s knock-it-off effect on war

Inklings of peace in the world’s hot spots suggest people seek a higher priority in health.

An Afghan man in Kabul walks past images of Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation.

The fury of the pandemic, said António Guterres last March, “illustrates the folly of war.” Five months on, the words of the United Nations secretary-general have proved only partly right. World peace has yet to break out. But peace is peeking through the curtain in a few countries still in violent conflict. Note these recent news items:

In late July, Yemen’s leading separatist group, the Southern Transitional Council, said it will abandon its goal of self-rule. The move raises further hope for an end to a five-year war that has killed more than 112,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

In Europe, a cease-fire in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia began July 27 as both countries are forced to focus on the pandemic. Violent attacks in eastern Ukraine have fallen sharply, opening a door to a negotiated settlement.

Last month, Turkey and Greece almost came to blows over a set of islands. A violent conflict was avoided after German leader Angela Merkel intervened.

And in Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Afghan government halted hostilities for three days during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday starting July 31. The truce added hope for a start to intra-Afghan peace talks.

These conflicts have their own dynamics, but no doubt all are being reshaped to a degree by the fallout from COVID-19 in both lives and livelihood. “The 2020 pandemic has highlighted how interconnected, fragile and complex the global socio-economic system is,” stated a June report from the Institute for Economics & Peace.

Globally, according to a research group called Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), political violence has dropped about 10% since the pandemic declaration. Much of that decline is attributed to a reduction in fighting in Syria and Afghanistan, where peace efforts began before this year. Also in countries that saw violent protests before COVID-19, demonstrations have fallen about 30%.

The pandemic has “abruptly shifted the political contexts that shape violence patterns in many countries – the long-term effects of which remain to be seen,” concludes the ACLED analysis.

Armed groups may be finding out that the people they claim to represent now prioritize ending the pandemic. A universal desire for health – or a life free of disease or other harm – is itself a force to be reckoned with. A new foe must be vanquished. Old feuds must step aside. Healing may be replacing hostility.

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