Here’s What Pakistan Should Learn From The Coronavirus Experience
Talimand Khan argues that the coronavirus pandemic tells us that a ventilator and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) are more important and powerful than an armoured vehicle, missile and armed personnel carrier. It is also a divine signal that the brag of the state elites that ‘we will defend every inch of our land’ sufficiently alludes the bankruptcy of the present state system.
The first quarter of the 21st century almost reeled under the terror engendered by terrorism and the War on Terror, triggered mainly by the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, US. Unfortunately, the terror psychosis perpetuated in the last two decades is now supplanted by the fear created by the Covid-19.
The intention here is not to compare the underlying causes of the origination of the two different phenomena as the former was intrinsically human-fabricated while the latter cause, hitherto enigmatic, is attributed to nature. Now, more important than the causes is how this pandemic will affect the world and humanity in the long run, assuming the expected changes would be different than the previous ones, especially post 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror.
Throughout history, calamities, whether natural or human-made, triggered political, socio-economic and cultural changes. And the scope of those changes corresponded proportionately to the spread and magnitude of the epidemic or disaster. There should be no euphemism that changes brought or triggered by such phenomena should intrinsically be pro people without grass root political mobilisation and vigilance.
Human-made disasters often leave much room to the state’s elite to control their effects and channel the energies produced mostly by the fear psychosis toward the fortification of the status quo. In such circumstances, the state’s elite further provoke nationalist sentiments, ego, fears and nationalist survival instincts.
The post Cold-War world was in dire need for some fundamental positive, pro human and pro nature changes and some adjustments, if not drastic changes, in the nation state system which served as its foundation. Ironically, that opportunity was squandered by the victors. Instead of shared and sustainable global or human prosperity, the powerful western states opted for narrow nationalistic and sectional interests. They interpreted the fall of Soviet Union as their hard won victory and began to behave as medieval conquerors, adhering to ‘the winner takes all’ axiom. Virtues like the free world, liberty etc were tergiversated by those same western societies that avowed to uphold them against the evil empire of communism during the Cold War era.
The corollary was increased global uncertainty and polarisation that culminated in the War on Terror which the states fought in the garb of non-state actors at pre specified theaters with sporadic backlashes throughout the globe. The created terror psychosis further strengthened the grip of state’s elite over the levers of state power and helped to avoid the required changes in the world order. The world generally, and in some regions particularly, witnessed unprecedented militarisation, intolerance, cultural and religious hatred. The right wing and religious extremists emerged everywhere as political force, overwhelming even established democracies.
In many respects, the world of the 21st century could not be called better than the 20th century. It seemed that every state was in search of a scapegoat, but in the end it was the citizens who crumbled under the weight of politicised authoritarianism. The majority of states curtailed and usurped civil rights and trampled their citizens’ privacy in the name of national security. Though, besides constraints, restrictions and curbs, the War on Terror could not affect a lock down neither on national, regional nor on international level. All those factors to effectuate polarization and division could not force social distancing. But the Coronavirus epidemic accomplished it!
The question is whether or not this global human sufferings will change the behavior and the policies of the states’ elite and turn the world into a somewhat better place for living or will they continue to use it to fortify the status quo?
A glaring example is that the federal government of Pakistan expressed its intention to revise and amend the 18th constitutional amendment. Much to the chagrin of the security establishment, the said constitutional amendment was unanimously passed by the parliament in April 2010, awarding cherished political and financial autonomy to the provinces.
So far, in Pakistan the provincial government of Sindh performed well while fighting the Covid-19 pandemic as compared to federal and three provincial governments lead by the PTI and its allies. And this performance of the provincial government is the outcome of the 18th Amendment that provides sufficient authority and resources to act on its own for the betterment of people, in case the federal government dithers. While the people cringe under a lockdown, Pakistan, as well as any state, should refrain from fishing in troubled waters to bulldoze anti people measures.
Currently, in the absence of mass political pressure, the states seem to cover its inherited weakness and skewed priorities, particularly in terms of resource distribution. States use the bulk of their resources on militarisation in the form of defence budget which cannot protect citizens from this ominous pandemic. No state, developed, developing or underdeveloped is in a position to claim impeccable preparation to cope with it.
Presently, a ventilator and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) are more important and powerful than an armoured vehicle, missile and armed personnel carrier. It is also a divine signal that the military industrial empire should take a rest. This brag of the state elites, particularly the security establishment, ‘we will defend every inch of our land’ sufficiently allude the bankruptcy of the present state system priority giving primacy to the security of land over human security. During this pandemic we did not hear any leader or general declaring that they will protect every citizen.
Let this pandemic be an epic lesson learnt for the human beings to rise above the narrow, myopic thinking. Ironically, those states speak much louder for a fair world order which abhor themselves to rule by the law, and demand rights for themselves from the world which is denied to its own citizens. During the lock down and social distancing, human beings have enough time to think deeply about the future of this planet and how the human being of 21st century should be governed.
The author is a political analyst based in Islamabad.