Afghanistan has suffered this morning the worst earthquake in the last twenty years, with a toll of around a thousand dead and more than fifteen hundred injured, mainly in the eastern province of Paktika. The country, which during the two decades of US occupation concentrated a veritable army of aid workers in its capital, now faces this calamity practically alone.
The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.1 degrees, hit eastern Afghanistan around 1:30 am, in a shock that could also be felt in Kabul or on the Pakistani border. After a very short time, the earth shook again with an aftershock of 4.5 degrees.
The districts of Barmala, Ziruk, Naka and Gayan, all of them in Paktika, were the most affected by the earthquake, although there were also dozens of victims in the neighboring provinces of Khost and Nangarhar and even one death on the Pakistani side, as a result of the collapse of a house.
According to the official Bakhtar agency, at least 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people are believed to be trapped under the rubble. Despite the very limited resources of the self-proclaimed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban managed to charter some helicopters and evacuate a certain number of wounded. The information, in any case, is still very scarce on the scope of the tragedy and it is feared that the number of deceased is much higher, in a large, rural and poorly communicated area.
"Dozens of houses have been destroyed," a Taliban spokesman, Bilal Karimi, tweeted. "We urge all aid agencies to send teams immediately to prevent a further catastrophe," he added.
The Hindu Kush mountain range, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the product of a clash of tectonic plates and has been prodigal in tremors. The most serious of recent times, however, spared Afghanistan and struck Kashmir under Pakistani tutelage, in 2005, leaving between 55,000 and 75,000 dead. So far this century, the worst earthquake in Afghanistan was the one that, in 2002, left a thousand dead, four years after 45,000 Afghans died in an earthquake of the same magnitude as today, but which affected areas more densely populated.
According to the European seismological agency, EMSC, the tremors have been noticed in a radius of more than 500 kilometers, between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The Taliban, who conquered Kabul last summer, have yet to gain international recognition, hampered by their religious conservatism and discrimination against women. The army of Afghan officials, who had not been paid even before the regime change, have seen their financial situation worsen, due to the economic and administrative incompetence of the Taliban, as well as the closure of the flow of international financial aid.
Without forgetting the plundering of the latter, for two decades, by an Afghan elite that has invested its loot in properties in the Emirates, Turkey and other countries. Likewise, Washington refuses to release Afghan funds, several billion dollars, deposited in US banks.
Another worrying development for the Taliban is the stormy political change in Islamabad, where, following the ouster of Imran Khan, both the new government of Shahbaz Sharif and, above all, the almighty Pakistan Army, have seen an opportunity to improve their relations with United States on account of the harmony between New Delhi and Moscow, highlighted after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Although the Afghans are enjoying their first year without war in several decades, the dividends of peace are long in coming and several international agencies are warning of the risk of famine. Undoubtedly, the Taliban will try to use the current disaster to try to attract again some of the NGOs that chose to close their offices and their activities in the educational or health field, in a model that has proven unsustainable in the long term.
While the Taliban regime swings towards the orbit of China - one of the few countries that never managed to close its embassy - some initiatives are beginning to appear with the aim of opening the game. India has sent, at the beginning of the month, its first official delegation since the fall of Kabul. Uzbekistan has put on the table the construction of a railway linking Pakistan and Afghanistan with Central Asia. Thirty-eight million Afghans are hungry for good news.