Coronavirus Has Become A Security Threat
Umer Farooq argues that Pakistan is completely clueless as to how to deal with the coronavirus emergency. The structures—military, political, social and economic—we built over the years to deal with threats emanating from rival human societies are not effective in dealing with non-conventional threat emanating from a virus, which is not perceptible from human eyes.
COVID-19 and the ordeal it is producing in our society should be taken as a warning shot. We are completely clueless how to deal with this emergency or threat. The structures—military, political, social and economic—we built over the years to deal with threats emanating from rival human societies are not meant to or effective in dealing with non-conventional threat emanating from a virus, which is not perceptible from human eyes. We don’t have the required tools to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 related pandemic from spreading in our society.
Doctors’ community towards which all eyes stare in desperation have already thrown in the towel, while the pandemic is perceptibly in the initial stages of spreading. Our reaction in these desperate times are no different from all previous such occasions. The governments in two provincial capitals have called the army to come to their rescue—when the only solution available to you is a hammer; all your problems look like nails.
Looking at what we have done in the past over 70 years of our existence, to deal with the threats that could endanger the survival of our society, is a very painful experience. Every thing we built in the past over 70 years is huge but not smart—huge army, huge number of MBBS doctors, huge security apparatus and huge state machinery. These huge structures developed and constructed political, social and economic interests of their own in the processes of distribution of resources in the society.
Huge Army’s political, social and economic interests dictated that every one who matters, should see and perceive from their eyes the threats that a small group of military officers perceived sitting in the cozy environment of their air conditioned offices. This threat perception was popularized among the public through the medium of conventional and social media. So the result was that there was a sizeable segment of the population, which supported and belligerently advocated the allocation of major portion of our resources towards arming, equipping and maintaining a large military establishment.
We built a huge army of MBBS doctors passing out from government as well as private medical colleges, many of whom were beyond the capacity of public hospitals to accommodate. But we continued to produce them, nevertheless. Huge work forces accumulated with no job opportunities, no salaries and no possibility of serving the humanity for which they took an oath at the time of their induction as doctors of medicine. We produced them in huge numbers with no mind applied to what we need and what is the requirement of the society. In such a situation it would be useless to expect that someone in the government or society could have applied his or her mind to take into account the different threats or possible medical emergencies that could have wrecked the fabrics of our society. And how this huge workforce, that we were producing, could be used by the government to meet the challenges of medical emergencies , that could befall on our society. So this huge and directionless workforce developed interests of their own—although they are not as powerful as the army and routinely blocked roads in major urban centers to demand better wages or better working conditions.
We developed huge security structures—huge security forces that include huge intelligence agencies, huge para-military forces and huge police force, as part of a coercive machinery of the state. The mindset that produced these huge structures was a legacy of colonial state that we inherited as a post-colonial state. We realized the fact that these structures were huge but not smart only when we came face to face with the new threat emerging in the shape of militant groups and terrorist organizations. Many a times it happened during the past 15 years that Pakistan’s huge security structure either proved to be no match to the lethal militant groups or they went for the overkill—something which disrupted the civic life.
Huge is not always good, this is the lesson we should have learned from the history of our threat perceptions. Nor the single directional pursuit of military related threats a very smart way of running a modern state. The threats to the survival of Pakistani society are myriad and not only military in nature. It is an irony and not a very smart act on our part as a society to remain immersed in the colonial thinking in building huge security structures, whose only quality of convertibility is to transform into tools of coercion in the time of need.
Perceiving a threat from rival human societies has remained a constant in human history. But the times are changing—the advent of smart and mass destruction weapons have made it possible to defend the country’s border with a smart force. Countries all over the world are doing it. Huge armies are a necessity from the perspective of domestic political dynamics—hugeness and spread of the military is required to control the country from a domestic political perspective. Secondly, world is fast moving into a situation, where sticking to old territorial disputes is seen as a waste of time and energy. This modern understanding of modern security paradigms are necessary if we want to focus on our survival as a society, which is threatened from myriads of non-conventional threats.
The floods of 2010, caused by horrendous climatic changes were the first warning shots for Pakistan’s security managers, who as a matter of routine have to deal with the question of survival of the society in this changing environment. Pakistani state machinery miserably failed to come up to the expectation of the people displaced by the floods in all the four provinces of the country. Ironically, we didn’t see any change in the scheme of allocation of resources to cater to the threat of climate change, which we should start taking as a serious threat. Scientists all over the world are speculating that Pakistan and the surrounding regions would be the worst affected by the impending climatic changes. Flood s of 2010 might be the first warning shots but they were not the last tragedy, which Pakistani society faced because of climatic changes.
Pakistani state structures and resources are in such a tight grip of Pakistan’s powerful military that any re-think in the allocation of resources towards new structures to deal with new threats is not a possibility in the foreseeable future. Everything from popular narrative to religious discourse support the allocation of major portion of the resources to the land forces, which were initially built to meet threats from rival human societies during colonial period. This thinking emanates from an outdated security paradigm and yet it devours major portion of our resources.
COVID-19 has again brought us to a point where we have to re-think and re-design our state structure in a way that we could force our way out of this outdated thinking and security paradigm. It is the survival of the society, which should be of our prime concern and not the economic, political and social interests of any particular institution. Ironically when we required a vibrant and functioning health system in place the most to deal with the pandemic, we are presented with bayonets to coerce the population into submission and from giving an anarchic response to government ineptness and inefficiency.
Lets all pray to Allah Almighty that he protects us from this menace—but please remember that this is not the last time we will become victim to the outdated state machinery’s inefficiencies in the time of crisis. Our misplaced priorities will threaten our society in myriad of ways in foreseeable future.
Some of the predictions of the scientists regarding irreversible climatic changes that are about to take place in the world we make my point clear. Scientists all over the world are predicting that just over a decade is all that remains to stop irreversible damage from climate change. This prediction was part of the proceedings of the UN General Assembly in 2019. “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) warned the gathering in her opening remarks, stressing that 11 years are all that remain to avert catastrophe.
In the absence of major action to reduce emissions, global temperature is on track to rise by an average of 6 °C (10.8 °F), according to the latest estimates. Some scientists argue a ‘global disaster’ is already unfolding at the poles of the planet; the Arctic, for example, may be ice-free at the end of the summer melt season within just a few years. Yet other experts are concerned about Earth passing one or more “tipping points” – abrupt, perhaps irreversible changes that tip our climate into a new state.
Scientists are predicting that Sea levels would rise as a result and Port Cities like Karachi will be threatened in such a situation, displacing millions from their habitats.
We have to think innovatively and we have to think creatively to deal with these threats, which will be threatening the very survival of our society. Sticking to old paradigms will only serve the interests of well-entrenched segments of the society. It will not ensure our survival.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.