Nisar A. Memon
20-April- 2020 – Pakistan Observer
The ancient civilization of our region is stuck by a pandemic which has taken the whole world by surprise. Isn’t this the time to bury the hatchet, unite to fight current common enemy and lay a solid basis for future relations? The answer can only be in affirmative.
Covid-19 first surfaced, reported and now controlled in China. How did they do it? Their leadership, hats off to President Xi Jinping who led from the front and his entire team in center, provinces, municipalities implemented effective unambiguous lockdown with reliable data using information technology and artificial intelligence to save further lives by testing, isolation, isolation and isolation. In the fight they provided to doctors, paramedics and supporting staff the personal protective equipments. These frontline medical soldiers in turn went scientifically against the virus to save citizen lives. Bravo!!!
Unfortunately, our neighbour Iran could not implement social distances due to ziarat (pilgrimage) and Covid-19 found fertile ground to spread. India announced severe and tough lockdown and saved their people. Sri Lanka undertook early hygiene and preventive measures and kept the Island nation safe. Bangladesh took stringent measures to save lives. Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Afghanistan too fought well to save lives. Pakistan had no option but to take actions to contain spread of pandemic.
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries with population of about 1.8 billion had confirmed Covid-19 cases of above 20,000 and over 600 deaths, as of last week. At the same time; USA and Europe with population of about 1.1 billion had confirmed Covid19 cases of above 1.6 million and over 120,000 deaths. SAARC affliction was proportionally lower than USA and Europe. The scientists and social researchers have yet to come up with a plausible answer as to why such a huge difference. The reasons like temperature, social distances, and effective lockdown do not hold true. The rural horizontal spread, food we eat, and pollution with unclean environment may have developed immunity within our body. But nothing definitive is said yet.
SAARC was founded in 1985 to promote regional dialogue for development of economic and regional integration, but unfortunately was infected by lack of cooperation – worst virus than Covid-19 since it is 35 years old and yet objectives unachieved. Look at these countries to be proud regional citizen.
Afghanistan gateway to Central Asia with human habitation which dates back to the Middle Paleolithic Era; Bangladesh with world’s longest natural sandy beach in Cox’s Bazar and the Sundarban forest with Bengal Tigers; Bhutan, a Buddhist Kingdom on Himalayas with clean environment pioneered happiness index for which it ranks first in Asia; India, where settled life emerged 9,000 years ago, with various religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Sikhism; Maldives a nation of 1192 islands in the Indian Ocean, that spans across the equator and is a tourist heaven; Nepal a small but proud nation with eight of the 10 highest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest; Sri Lanka an island country in the Indian Ocean with its tea gardens and rich heritage; Pakistan with ancient history has Neolithic site of Mehrgarh while the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization with 5,000 year old Moen Jo-Daro settlement stands excavated.
The region has withstood the current enemy Covid-19 by wisdom, as ONE at country level. Makes us think about the dividends regional countries could have achieved if they were UNITED. The collective wisdom and cooperative efforts would yield dividends higher than just the sum of components. Today is the time to unite to develop vaccines, medicines for prevention and treatment of Covid-19. We have science and ancient wisdom with Ayurveda system of medicine and natural quality Unani Herbal medicines which are far cheaper and suit the genius of our people compared to imported expensive medicines.
Once we cooperate against Covid-19, we shall develop trust which is the vaccine for all the disputes we have within the region to bring us together. It is not a game but science and technology. The sports spirit can be helpful but the rules are entirely different which need to be learnt to govern, else disaster awaits those w ho are arrogant and think they know it all!
So why are we not developing it jointly to save time and resources. Answer is security and security perceptions. Two large countries of SAARC i.e. India and Pakistan spend huge chunk of budget on security to preserve sovereignty. Has anyone thought of cooperation and not confrontation, friendship not enmity, to overcome real enemy after today’s Covid-19 which is none other than poverty and ignorance. Can we do it? Absolutely. How do we go about with collective wisdom? An obvious response will be to strengthen regional alliance. Which ones? SAARC, SCO if we go northward, ASIAN if we go eastward. Let’s not dissipate our energies in all directions but focus on SAARC which although due to its past performance does not excite many. Then why talk about it? Because during this pandemic it has surfaced itself from its hibernation raising hope.
The way forward appears to have chance for saving the SAARC by getting it under respirator and treating it with common strategy to meet common challenges. The doctors are none other than the leadership of each country, no matter how they came to govern and country’s state of affairs, the doctors if they give up being spin-doctors and true to their people by uniting at regional level they will deliver manifold what they could by acting alone. How can they rise above the decades of prejudices and confrontation?
An optimist will suggest, identify a set of challenges common to region that are being addressed by each already. Out of this limited set of challenges prioritize and go to pick one to work together. Tough? No. Where to meet? Lockdown has made it easy, no selection and rejection of host country. Technology based meeting initiated by a country with no Covid-19 deaths so far. Common men who have traveled many decades and wish to see the coming generation live in peace and prosperity appeals to leadership of each SAARC country to join in this thought process.
Nisar A. Memon; former federal minister and senator.