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Editorial | Divided By Borders, United By Apathy

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No pandemic is simply a story of biology.

Every such outbreak operates on the structures that human societies have built – social ties, kinship, solidarity, domination and violence. Mass outbreaks of disease do not just make their own course. They tend to flow along the ruts carved by human societies. They hit some more than others. And the course of a pandemic is shaped by how we already live and treat others before it strikes.

The Coronavirus pandemic is likely to be taking a particularly harsh toll on Kashmiris, long suffering under the rule of a powerful country which has little love for them but demands absolute submission nonetheless.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui recently noted that Pakistan is “deeply concerned” at the lack of medical assistance in occupied Kashmir, from where reports of infection and fatalities are now starting to emerge. In this, she speaks for all those who value justice and humanity – in any country of the world, including those within India who disagree with the heavy-handed approach of PM Narendra Modi’s government. Pakistan’s FO spokesperson particularly mentioned the plight of prisoners in the jails of the occupation during this pandemic.

For Pakistan’s rulers and ruled, this should not be a moment to gloat at nastiness across the border. We cannot pretend that only Indian authorities have atrocious and callous attitudes to answer for.

Unfortunately, there is not much to distinguish the response of the Indian and Pakistani states to the Coronavirus pandemic. Both put the well-being of their general population after the interests of the rich and the powerful. Neither has taken enough measures to feed their poor and shield them from the economic impact of the virus, but both will be found treating citizens in ugly ways in the middle of the crisis.

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Pakistan’s prison population remains at the mercy of the virus. Aside from hapless suspects under arrest within the legal system, we have untold numbers of political prisoners which state authorities refuse to talk about – but who remain, nevertheless, “missing”.

For all their pretense at being foes, we are forced again and again to point out that Indian and Pakistani rulers have more in common with each other than they would admit in their bombastic public statements. The Coronavirus pandemic has revealed the hollowness and violence at the heart of the social contract in both India and Pakistan. In our part of the world, the state apparatus has nothing but contempt, neglect and violence for the overwhelming majority.

It is likely that this time will be remembered as one when the governments of two nuclear-armed strategic rivals effectively abandoned millions of poor and brutalized citizens – when they were at their most vulnerable and in need of a gentle helping hand from the state.

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