Countries across the globe are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a struggle for all the countries so far. Not a single country has been safe from it. United Nations has labelled this pandemic the “most challenging crisis” after World War II. Within three months of outbreak, 180 countries have been affected, more than one million people have been affected and around 50,000 lives lost worldwide.
Highlighting the risk this poses to peace and stability in the world, the United Nations’ Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, issued an urgent appeal for action, calling on politicians to “forget political games” and come together for a “strong and effective response”.
“The world is facing an unprecedented test. And this is the moment of truth,” he said.
Lockdowns were brought in as a strategy to contain its spread, but it has brought its own set of hardships. Countries with the dwindling economies have been forced into a standstill. The worst-hit regions are suffering the most, hospitals are overflowing with sick patients, medical supplies are dwindling and the strength to uphold the patient pool has become a challenge of its own. In addition to those who are suffering, shortage of food and money has become an overwhelming issue for the governments. Lack of awareness coupled with a lack of resources, has been a major source of contention in developing nations.
“It’s been disappointing in many countries – too many,” said John M Barry, a historian who studied the Spanish flu pandemic that killed as many as 100 million people in 1918. “In some countries, it’s been outright reprehensible – some leaders’ actions will unnecessarily kill many of their citizens.”
It looks as if history is repeating itself, the decision about millions of lives is in the hands of a small group of world leaders. A decision that they will have to take in the coming days or weeks. Some countries are in denial as their leaders be little the chaos we can face. Their reasons vary widely, so does their interests. It ranges from distrust in science or worse, preference of economic reasons over health.
Denial tactics have been commonly put forth. In China, Xi Jinping shared virus effects were first observed in late December,but his team were more focused on covering up the threat by punishing the doctors who sounded suspicious or alarmed at the early outbreak of the illness. This paved way for the virus to spread in every nook and corner of Wuhan and then globally.
Across the Atlantic, in United States, President Donald Trump initially trivialized the severity of the virus threat, thinking it would just disappear over a while like a miracle. And then he dismissed the growing clinical emergency that would go on to halt the world economics, contemplating whether the disease was a “hoax” by his political rivals. He had to remodel his tactics after it was estimated that 200,000 people could die in the US if proper and substantial containment efforts are not put in place.
On a contrasting note, Indonesian Prime Minister, Joko Widodo, admitted he withheld the information of the outbreak, to prevent panic among the population. He took the advise of his ministers, who claimed that they could pray this disease away. Moreover, he was reassured that Indonesia’s warmer climate would slow the virus spread.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the illness as a “fantasy” and a “little flu”. Just last week, he defied the advice of his health officials on avoiding social contact by touring the streets of the capital, Brasilia, in a campaign to get his countrymen back to work.
The callus approach by world leaders extends to Mexico, where President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, held political rallies late into March. He was pictured kissing his supporters and urging Mexicans to “live life as normal”. Remarkably, these turn of events took place when his health minister called on citizens to stay home to contain the virus.
Such behaviors from world leaders have been criticized across the globe. As Charles Call wrote in his blog post that this crisis will pose a “test for populism” in countries. He said at Washington DC-based Brookings Institute that this conduct should be marked as “an aversion to scientific inquiry and state institution”.
So instead of denying it would have been wise to tell the truth and face the situation in full swing. It is a repeat of the last huge pandemic, where similar tactics were employed. It did not end well in 1918 and it is not turning out pleasantly now. The masses should be informed about the severity of the situation, but the truth has been trivalized so far.
From March11, the situation spiked in Italy, as the region had the most population of elderly, low immunity population. Concerned, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was alarmed at the fact that approximately 70 percent of her country’s population could contract the virus. “The situation is serious; take it seriously,” she said. In a democracy, such curbs “should not be enacted lightly – and only ever temporarily. But at the moment they are essential to save lives.”
Praising Merkel, Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe said the chancellor’s approach “points the way forward to the unified, decisive response that is necessary and how democracies can best deliver it”. Like Germany, Singapore similarly went for aggressive testing and tracing campaigns which in return kept the number of the infections low in the country. Around 1000 cases since the beginning of the outbreak. In an interview to CNN, he said,
“We are transparent – if there is bad news, we tell you. If there are things which need to be done, we also tell you,” he said. “If people do not trust you, even if you have the right measures, it is going to be very hard to get them implemented.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, despite limited resources, dived in bravely with the population to keep the number of viruses affected to be under the bay. Progressive standards were made available and were followed to protect the citizens.
UN acknowledged the disadvantaged democracy’s work and appreciated their efforts to do so.South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele are also receiving praise for enacting similar decisive and transparent actions.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, used the fistful right to amend in to law that imposes jail terms of five years on those who spread “false information” to prevent spreading of rumors about the pandemic and saving the population from panic. Similar steps were taken by Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, as he can secure any emergency power to crack down on false claims about the pandemic.`
And during these testing times, some leaders have used their political power to over embezzle their authority over their population. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, used state emergency and closedown country’s courts ahead of his trials on corruption charges. The pandemic was used as an excuse.
“We recognize that this pandemic is posing an unprecedented test for world leaders,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Our problem is that some leaders have adopted authoritarian approaches. This is not the time for politics… any emergency powers must be proportionate, and states must always protect people’s rights.”
With a handful of the pandemic crisis over the globe, the verbal war between US-China is another cause of concern. As to fight this crisis the world needs to be united under the strong umbrella of key countries.
“There isn’t a global response. And it’s a huge problem in the sense that this a crisis that is much better handled if key countries came together,” said Charles Kupchan of the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.
We need to think of the masses without proper or developing health care system. In these critical times, we can get to the finishing line only by working together. The wholehearted help of countries with advanced and proper healthcare systems need to stand up and share their experiences. Stability is not far away but a lot of work will have to be done before it could be realized.
Cutting Distances with a Cricket Stump
Sports are the common threads that bind people and countries together. The interlocking rings of the Olympics rings symbolize the coming together of all nations. The former US President Nixon successfully used “ping-pong diplomacy” to open the US-China relationship leading the US to lift embargo against China on June 10, 1971. Cricket has been used in a similar manner to bring together the people of different countries, especially South Asians. Sport in South Asia is a significant part of culture. For South Asians, it is not only a sport but part of their collective identity. Some legends of Cricket in South Asia like Imran Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Waseem Akram, Sunil Gavaskar, Kumar Sangakkara, Shahid Afridi, Shakaib Al Hasan, Shoaib Akhtar and Virat Kohli are the household names. Though, Pakistan is known as the manufacturer of the official FIFA World Cup ball, football is not popular in Pakistan. Pakistan has remained world champions in Squash, Hockey, Cricket, Snookers, Kabaddi and many other individual events of athletics, yet cricket is the most sought-after sport in Pakistan despite bottlenecks like terrorism and COVID-19.
While the overall sports spectrum went down, Pakistani cricket maintained its presence in cricketing world. Since last few years, Pakistani cricket team has been able to revive and reinvent itself internationally. I remember one of the slogans during Independence Cup 2017 in Lahore that said “It is not Pakistan vs. World, it is Pakistan vs. Terrorism”. In Pakistan, cricket is also a measure of national strength. Pakistan’s cricket teams take part in domestic competitions such as the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the Patron’s Trophy, ABN-AMRO Twenty-20 Cup, and the ABN-AMRO Champions Trophy. In 2015, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) organized a franchise based T20 cricket league known as the Pakistan Super League (PSL). The two seasons of PSL, 2020 and 2021 are held entirely by PCB. Additionally, Mr. Imran Khan, incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan has conceived the new basic structure of the game in country.
Pakistan has won international cricket events, which include the 1992 Cricket World Cup, the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 and the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy besides finishing as runner-up in the 1999 Cricket World Cup and the 2007 ICC World Twenty20. Women’s cricket is also very popular, with KiranBaluch holding the current record of the highest score in a women’s test match with her innings of 242. Mr. Imran Khan has the honour of leading Pakistan national cricket team which won the 1992 Cricket World Cup. In 2010, he was also inducted into International Cricket Council’s Hall of Fame.
Hitting Balls not Borders
In South Asia, cricket and politics are interwoven. Wars have been fought and conflicts have been de-escalated alongside the bat hitting ball. The history of India-Pakistan relations did not inspire confidence in rebuilding relations through non-political means. However, the cricket matches between them are loaded with deeper political and diplomatic meaning.
From 1947 to 1965 only three test series were played between India and Pakistan. The 1965 and 1971 wars led to complete stoppage of cricket exchanges between two countries and there was a very little window to use cricket as a tool to maintain goodwill. After a gap of 17 years, cricket was resumed between them in 1978. The first instance of cricket diplomacy was in 1987 when General Zia-Ul-Haq visited India to attend a test match in Jaipur, and the resulting diplomatic dialogue cooled relations. In 2004, Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, went to Pakistan to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. He also allowed Indian cricket team to visit Pakistan to play and advised the cricketers to not only win the matches, but also the hearts of Pakistani public. Over the next three years, the two countries played each other three times. Cricket diplomacy again emerged when then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, met each other for the World Cup 2011 semifinal between India and Pakistan. Peace talks started again and Pakistan toured India in December 2012 for a T20 and three One Day Internationals (ODIs). The efficacy of cricket diplomacy in Indo-Pak relations can also be gauged from the fact that it brought both states to the negotiating table to manage the issue of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).
All for One and One for All
Any major international sporting event like a World Cup gives one a sense of belonging to a larger global community. Sportsmen have always been successful goodwill ambassadors for any country and have admirers across borders. Fans’ love for cricket break all barriers that is why the peacekeepers see cricket as a tool to bind people together. Despite tensions, Pakistani fans recently celebrated India’s historic win over Australia. Nelson Mandela also believed that “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”In short, a link between international cricket’s revival and national resilience need to be established. Restarting international cricket in South Asia would enhance the opportunity to establish aspired will of peace and prosperity.
Can diplomats be proactive online without becoming “wolf-warrior”?
With the increasingly important digital world, traditional, offline tools and approaches are becoming less and less sufficient and effective in shaping the public conversation, influencing the global or national public opinion, and obtaining trust.
As a part of reform that veers towards revolution in a domain well known for its adherence to norms, today’s diplomacy is also experiencing functional changes in terms of what strategic communications means in the digital environment. As we are witnessing lately, the emerging diplomatic virtual presence has become a significant part of public diplomacy and policy.
Today, the undeniable power of social media lies in its fundamental role of linking the public and political sphere as part of a worldwide conversation. It is notable that the general reason behind its effectiveness and the steep rise of adoption lie in the power of this environment of building strong brands and credibility. This certainly is today’s Zeitgeist and involves the systematic cultivation of the attempt to influence the public opinion with every single action and to boost social legitimacy, in a more and more interconnected world that seeks to turn individual gestures and actions into symbols.
However, does this fully explain why social media is becoming an emerging playground for sarcasm and open battlefield for a digital war of accusations and threats?
One of founders of today’s Twiplomacy phenomenon is the former US president, Donald Trump, who proved to be, for better or worse, one of the most vigorous and captivating presences on social media among world leaders. What is striking in this is the gradual increase in the adoption of the new diplomatic style, known as the Wolf-warrior approach, which gained prominence in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and Chinese presence in the social media. This approach, which originated from a Chinese patriotic movie, in which the main mission of the warrior is fighting back foreigners, is characterized by a more aggressive and assertive style of conducting foreign policy.
It is argued by some that this approach is not being adopted in order to display authoritarian tendencies and to project but rather it is more often adopted by Chinese diplomats as a defense response to the repeated attacks and accusations. It seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Drastic times call for drastic measures?
Either way, the US-China digital war leads to questioning the adequate behavioral approaches to addressing the continuous global power competition and diplomatic tensions. Assertive and offensive or proactive? What makes a wolf-warrior and where do we draw the line?
When credibility and national identity are under threat, assertive approaches seem to come in handy when defending one’s stance and strengthening confidence. We know it very well from the Chinese ancient wisdom: project strength when you are weak. This general principle applies to political stances and authority in advancing agendas, as well as preserving independence in hegemonic environments. However, when increased assertiveness is taken down the wrong road, the world ends up being divided into conflicting blocs. While proactiveness is certainly the adequate modus operandi to overcome such blockages and prevent escalating disputes from bouncing back, the line is certainly crossed when it reaches bullying and propaganda levels.
What is the smart and well-balanced dose of actions when interests and sovereignty come first? Assertiveness or smart power?
Proactiveness and high reliance on social media can also be channeled into advancing one’s objectives and consolidating strategic gains through smart use of power or through soft power. One of the best examples of this strategy is India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who’s presence on Twitter proves that, most of the time, the tone defines the effectiveness of the message and that balance is to be preferred to unhinged assertiveness. In the end, the art of persuasion is not limited to the right choice of words and actions here and now but also includes the challenging task of building trust in the long run.
China-India Vaccine Diplomacy – Will Pakistan Learn From Neighbors?
Modern infectious diseases and viruses have stimulated anew war and conflict along with poverty, counterurbanization (deurbanization), and climate change that need freshassessment in international relation arena. International cooperation for objective of infectiousdisease control goes back to atleast the 14th century, and to the later date of 1851, when Europe held its first International Sanitary Conference for multilateral cooperation to prevent the spread of cholera and yellow fever. Beginning in 2000, vaccine became cohesive as key tools in helping developing countries to achieve MDGs. In 2007, foreign ministers from seven countries issued the landmark “Oslo Ministerial Declaration” that formally linked health to foreign policy. Yet,in the past, there have been very few moments, as CoVID19, that assimilated such a huge number and variety of the world’s state actors at diplomatic front. The coronavirus vaccine – one of the world’s most in-demand commodities – has become a new currency for “Vaccine Diplomacy”. Vaccine diplomacy is not only the use of vaccine to increase diplomatic relationship and influence other countries but also, from a strategic perspective, vaccine access opens the door to expand long-term health security provisions.
China, one of the first countries to make a diplomatic vaccine push, promised to help developed and developing countries.Since the start of the pandemic, China used medical supplies to pursue foreign policy gains, sent masks and protective equipment to hard-hit territories,at present distributing vaccine.The vaccine diplomacy is a expansion of China’s endeavors to frame itself as the solution to the pandemic. Since the early days of the CoVID19 outbreak, China’s President Xi Jinping has focused on publicizing Chinese efforts to supply medical aid worldwide. China’s planeloads of CoVID19 donations including hospital gowns, nasal swabs, and surgical masks etc. – were regardedoptimistically, especially in developing countries. In addition, Chinese government sent experts to support medical personnel across the continent.Correspondingly, the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine producers,produced Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca. India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said it plans to supply CoVID19 vaccine to 49 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. So far, the country has been distributed 22.9 million doses under its “Vaccine Maitri” (Vaccine Friendship)initiative. Mr. Jaishankar also announced a gift of 2 lakh vaccine doses for about 90,000 U.N. peacekeepers serving in numerous hotspots around the world.
The vaccine race has become a new domain for China-India strategic competition. China’s whole state apparatus is behind the drive and Beijing sprang into action “Health Silk Road” through the cooperation channels of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Moritz Rudolf (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) says, “Health was one of the many subtopics of the BRI. With the pandemic, it has become the main focus”. On the other hand, C. Raja Mohan, (Director, Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore) said, “There is no way India can match China on a lot of issues, but in this particular case, because of India’s pharmaceutical infrastructure, India is in a good position”.In reality, both countries arecontemplating vaccine diplomacy as a matter of national pride and soft-power projection.
In Pakistan, the power of vaccine diplomacy has been underexplored despite the successful facts that included promoting peace between the Cold War powers of the 1950s and 1960s.The historical and modern-day track records of vaccine diplomacy are impressive. But, it has not yet led to an overarching framework for its expanded role in foreign policy of Pakistan. At the moment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, and National Command and Operation Center should establish vaccine diplomacy framework and play an imperative role in promoting international health agreements between Pakistan and governments throughout the world. Vaccine diplomacy will not only enhance Pakistan’s reputation in international arena but also blunt the propaganda of anti-Pakistan forces within boarder and abroad. Consequently, vaccine diplomacy activities should integrated into the foreign policy of Pakistan.
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