Withstanding catastrophes: a lesson worth learning for India and Pakistan

By: Ahmar Tarar

Relationships between fate and human will often get complicated. Humans-the most resilient creature on earth- are often subdued by nature induced calamities. Are the natural disasters beyond human agency? Do they extinguish human will? Believing in this human conjecture is both naïve and dangerous. Niccolo Machiavelli, in his magnum opus “The prince”,made good relevant remarks: “Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to predict the other half or perhaps a little less.”With few of the most beautiful words of him, Machiavelli went on commenting, “fortune shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her face where she knows that barriers and defences have not been raised to constrain her.”

In case you could not understand what Machiavelli meant to say, simply look what is happening in India and Pakistan. Fortune, in shape of an ugly and terrible pandemic, turns her forces towards sub-continent, finds them unprepared and ravages them forcefully leaving teeming millions of the region see self-destruction helplessly. The loss of lives and emotional breakdown is, unfortunately, unprecedented. Record-breaking new cases and deaths are being reported in India. Hospitals are running out of oxygen. Patients have to be queued to get a bed in hospital to be freed, often by the previous patient kicking the bucket. Cremation centres and cemeteries are overcrowded. The videos doing rounds on social media sites are heart wrenching and existing warehouse of words is unable to depict agony of India. Situation is not good on other side of the Radcliff line either. There is a constant surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Third wave of COVID is wreaking havoc on Pakistan’s health system which is on verge of collapse. Mass vaccination seems a far cry owing to financial liabilities and capacity issues.

It is irony that both these south Asian nations are nuclear armed. They have reasonably good defence systems. Pakistan have over 160 nuclear warheads, according to some estimates. India also possess over 150 nuclear warheads. Both have capacity to destroy each other to the extent unimagined but are unable to save a few.

WHY? The answer lies in misguided priorities. Where territorial sovereignty takes precedence over popular sovereignty and phony competitive nationalism takes over human well-being, human under-development ensues. Expenditures on building strong health and education systems have never been in vogue throughout history of India and Pakistan. Expenditures on human development have been minimal since ever. Both nations are paying price for their adventures of gnashing their teeth vis-à-vis each other throughout history.

However, there is a silver lining in the cloud. People have shown compassion for their cross-border neighbours during current wave of COVID. Head of a well-known philanthropist organisation i.e. Edhi Foundation has written a letter to prime minister of India to render their free services for Indian people. Even at state level, there is thaw in bilateral relationship. With this environment of cordiality must come reorientation of state policies. Both countries need to raise the barriers and defences not to counter each other but to fight human disasters like COVID pandemic. The panacea lies in human development. Furthermore, both countries can learn from the countries who fared well in COVID-19 pandemic. What are successful responses and what should be the future course for India and Pakistan to prepare themselves for future? Here are some insights.

According to Francis Fukuyama, the factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust and leadership. All of these attributes are directly linked with human development. Similarly, the first lesson of this pandemic, according to Fareed Zakariya in his recent book “ten lessons for a post pandemic world” is to buckle up to face more COVID like situations in future. His proposed plan of action includes countries need to develop strong public health systems and those systems need to communicate, learn from and cooperate with one-another. For both India and Pakistan, the lesson is worth learning.

To sum up, On June 6,1964. Dwight D Eisenhower, while recalling the ordeal of D-Day assault by Nazi Germany twenty years ago, stood while looking at the rows of graves in Normandy and made a good point to Walter Cronkite: “The soldiers who died during World War II gave us all a chance to build a better and more peaceful world.”  So, too, in our times, this pandemic has created the possibility for change and reform. Future course for both India and Pakistan must be cooperation and competition in enhancing capacity not to destroy other but to save lives of their citizens and enabling them to live good life. Both countries stand at a critical crossroads and it is up to both nations to take the opportunity or to squander it.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]