By Salman Bashir
Covid-19 is sweeping through the globe with devastating
effect in terms of human casualties and has severely disrupted political,
social and economic life. Fear, helplessness and uncertainty are written large
on every mind and face. The absence of proven vaccines and treatment are a
stark reality. The way forward for humanity is to join hands to chart a way
forward for common survival and wellbeing.
The first few weeks of the pandemic has witnessed varied reactions by different societies and states predicated on predilections based on domestic political expediency and geopolitics. International cooperation was virtually non-existent in the first phase as the virus erupted in China. The West generally was skeptical of China’s ability to effectively deal with the crisis and criticized its form of government and what they thought were ‘draconian’ measures taken by China to contain the spread.
This critique reeked of opportunism and a heartless attitude towards a humanitarian catastrophe. Fortunately, China has succeeded to a very large extent in overcoming the Covid-19 crisis, at least for now. Europe and America have been less fortunate. The pandemic knows and respects no borders and it is irresponsible to use it for point scoring.
The West’s response tried initially to avoid the same steps China had taken to score its victory over the virus. The concept of lockdown and strict implementation of social distancing– surveillance and monitoring, were seen as an anathema to the values of free societies and liberal values.
Valuable time was lost as the transmission of virus was not checked from the beginning. Eventually, everyone has come around to the necessity of effective societal steps to stop the spread of contagion. Harsh steps have thus been taken but at great cost in terms of casualties that could have been prevented if China’s strategy to contain the virus would have been taken in the first place.
While the World Health Organization is the central international instrument for global cooperation for health, its efficacy was reduced apparently in the first phase. Efforts to convene the Security Council for collective action against the pandemic have not succeeded so far, as certain states want to criticize and hold China responsible for the pandemic.
The racial undertones in the political bickerings over the
virus crisis have been unpleasant and wholly unnecessary. Propaganda against
China is being carried out by Indian television channels that have sought to
capitalize on conspiracy theories, even as India is facing huge internal
challenges in coping with the virus spread and turmoil due to an unplanned
lockdown. Prime Minister Modi has made a pro forma effort to invoke SAARC
cooperation against the virus.
Pakistan suggested that the South Asian region learn and seek cooperation from China in dealing with the virus challenge. Bilaterally, Pakistan reached out early to China as the first reports reached about the outbreak in Wuhan. Pakistan rushed all of its national inventory of masks and personal protective equipment to China and offered medical teams to assist the Chinese government and people.
China has now rushed medical equipment and medical experts to Pakistan to assist Pakistan as the virus started to surge in various parts of the country. The supplies include lifesaving ventilators, testing kits, masks and PPE’s. Besides, China’s expertise in dealing and managing the virus is being utilized through in-depth consultations, cooperation and coordination. A unique feature of Chinese wisdom is the recognition that each society has its own special features and therefore any pragmatic and effective response must be commensurate with national circumstances.
Pakistan has been caught in its own internal debates about the virtues of a strict lockdown. The varying responses by the four provincial governments and the federal government reflect the peculiarities of Pakistan’s political ethos as well as the evident deficit in effective governance and a rickety health system.
China’s advice for mandatory lockdown has not been fully implemented so far, but the valuable help from China in terms of testing kits, medicines and ventilators has definitely added substantially to the government’s capacity to deal with the situation.
Pakistan is also working with China on a long-term cooperation in the field of health. Pakistan believes in the inherent sincerity and goodwill in all Chinese gestures of international cooperation. The strategic cooperative partnership with China is based on ideals of spreading peace and prosperity for the two peoples and the peoples of the world. China has offered assistance to all countries affected by the virus. It has the capacity to contribute significantly to the well being of humanity at large. So have many other developed societies, only if they break out from their restrictive world view, self-imposed by geopolitical prisms.
(Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb)