Connect with us

South Asia

South Asia’s Weakening Resilience in the State of Pandemic

Published

on

Authors: Shanjida Shahab Uddin and Fahd Mannan*

Before Covid-19, the Spanish flu was the deadliest pandemic that hit the world, including the South Asian countries. It was estimated that around 18 million people died in this region due to that pandemic in 1920. A century later, the world is again hit by a deadly virus,Covid-19. The South Asian region detected its first conformed Covid-19 case in Nepal on January 24. Till date, this virus has spread in all of the South Asian countries infecting and causing the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Several challenges have already emerged during efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 in almost all South Asian countries, which were already mired in age-old challenges, including disunity and procrastination in the adoption of political decisions, poor healthcare systems, high population density, poor infrastructure and poverty. Although all these challenges are common in almost all eight South Asian countries, country like Bhutan exemplified how to overcome these challenges and outshine in curbing the transmission of Covid-19. Other countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are still struggling hard to curb the transmission of this deadly virus.

Lack of Unity in Regional Politics

Political disunity in South Asian countries once again appeared as a major obstacle in fighting Covid-19. However, positive moves had been witnessed immediately after all South Asian countries were found to have been affected by this virus. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a video conference under the platform of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)which was joined by all the South Asian leaders, except Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, to share their views regarding curbing this virus. On behalf of Imran Khan, his Special Assistant on Health Affairs, Zafar Mirza, participated in that video conference. A Covid-19 Emergency Fund was also created in the hope of collectively fighting against this pandemic. Although it is an encouraging and constructive move, Pakistan did not agree to contribute to this emergency fund based on the argument that this fund should be managed by the SAARC Secretariat General in Nepal, not India. Despite Pakistan’s absence in the initiative, all other South Asian countries have immediately contributed to this fund. Pakistan’s abstention from this recent move under the platform of SAARC proves that Pakistan will not support or facilitate any kind of initiative under the leadership of India. This kind of act proves that the political disunity still prevails between the major countries – India and Pakistan — and it strongly persists even amidst a common dire need in a time of crisis.

Poor Healthcare, Low Testing

Once known as the “sub-continent” of South Asia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were already dealing with a fragile healthcare system before Covid-19 hit. The healthcare system for billions of people in these three countries can best be summed up as inefficient while that for women and children is close to nil. Together with high population densities, low literacy rate and lack of awareness about basic hygiene made the overall healthcare system insubstantial against the deadly Covid-­­19. An insufficient number of hospitals, lack of doctors, scarcity of healthcare equipment and paucity of funds made dealing with Covid-19 a challenging task. And due to fast transmission of this virus, hospitals are being flooded with a surge in patients. This situation is making the already distressed healthcare system more convoluted and resulting in a shortage of ventilators, medicine and doctors, and most importantly masks, gloves and personal protection equipment (PPE). And the low testing rate of this virus in South Asian countries worsens the situation. For example, Bangladesh is the third country to be the most affected in South Asia after India and Pakistan with a total of 202,066 confirmed cases as of 18 July 2020. With a population of 165 million people, the country conducted 1,020,674 tests so far since 8 March and currently testing 6,195 of every million people as of 18 July 2020. In contrast, the Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal outshined in terms of the number of people tested per million (the Maldives 43,758 as of 22 May, Bhutan 25,375 as of 5 June and Nepal 21, 419 as of 14 July). Being large countries, India and Pakistan are also struggling with poor testing rates. For instance, India is currently testing only 9,736 people from every million as of 18 July. Bangladesh has an even more shocking obstacle: getting tested costs a minimum of $2.36 to a maximum of $5.86. No South Asian country is placing any charge on Covid-19 tests, something Bangladesh imposed recently. This will largely limit poor people’s access to getting tested.

Economic Fallout

Covid-19 swept the globe with periodic lockdowns, a state of quarantine and the idea of social distancing. The South Asian countries will also have to follow these stringent measures to curb the fast transmission rate of this virus. However, such stern steps to contain this pandemic largely disrupted market supply chains and caused sudden drops in demand. Due to the need to maintain lockdowns and social distancing, most of the countries in South Asia, which are densely populated, decided for continuing the state of emergency. Under this situation, educational institutions, offices, restaurants, shopping malls and other public places went under complete or limited lockdowns. If we see the case of Bangladesh, the country imposed temporary bans on commercial goods import and international passenger flights for almost two months. Following the sweeping measures to curb this virus, the country also went for a nationwide full lockdown, imposed travel restrictions in and out of the country and sealed borders with immediate neighbours. These had a large impact on the country’s economy. Experts are assuming that the country might be in for both external trade shocks and internal demand shocks. The impact on the inflow of remittances in the country might also be largely affected since the major remittance generating countries are still following complete to limited lockdowns shutting most of their businesses. These have already left thousands of migrant workers without a job. Apart from remittance, the country’s garments industry is the biggest contributor to the economy. However, this industry is also facing debacles since major clients in the US, UK, Germany, France and Italy shut their stores and modified their orders in tune with people limiting their spending. Almost all other countries are also facing more or less the same economic losses due to the restrictions coming with Covid-19. Therefore, it is predicted that the South Asian region may experience its worst economic fallout in 40 years followed by spiralling recessions.

Amidst all the grim scenarios in every aspect of these major nations, small countries like Bhutan have excelled in managing this pandemic. Of the eight countries of South Asia, Bhutan has still managed to maintain a zero death rate during this passing of this deadly virus. Bhutan has also managed to keep the number of confirmed cases low compared to other South Asian countries. Bhutan started its fight against this virus with a minimal amount of testing kits provided by World Health Organization (WHO) and a shortage of healthcare workers and essentials. The country took this situation very seriously and once it confirmed its first two cases, it immediately started tracing and testing people who had symptoms or came into contact with confirmed cases. Through the dedication of both the government and the masses, Bhutan successfully implemented its national preparedness and response plan with a commitment to regularly carry out testing. Therefore, there are lessons to learn from small countries like Bhutan to overcome the grim resilience situation prevailing in other South Asian countries. And major countries need to take collective short and long term steps by putting their disunities aside to gear up the region’s resilience against this pandemic.

*Fahd Mannan is Sub-Editor at The Daily Star, Bangladesh. He can be reached at zoahebman[at]gmail.com.

Shanjida Shahab Uddin is Research Officer at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS). She can reached at shanjidashahabuddin[at]gmail.com

Continue Reading
Comments

South Asia

Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

Published

on

Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

Continue Reading

South Asia

Afghan peace options

Published

on

President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

Continue Reading

South Asia

Pakistani Fanatics and their Foreign Policy Overtures

Published

on

A prudent leader ought to have regard not only for present troubles but also for future ones. They must prepare with every energy because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time. Through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that everyone can see them, there is no longer a remedy. These words are famously attributed to 16th-century Italian Philosopher Machiavelli, advising the ruler about statecraft, in his Magnus Opus, The Prince.

A similar kind of ignorance and obliviousness against which Machiavelli was warning to the ruler of the state was reflected by the government of Imran Khan when protests by a radical religious organization (TLP) shook the country from 11-20 April. Previous to this latest episode, TLP has also staged various sit-in and violent protests by which they effectively froze all life in twin cities as well as in various cities of Punjab.

2017 Faizabad interchange protest was the zenith of its anarchical behavior. In that protest, TLP demanded the resignation of the law minister altering the oath declaration in the election bill 2017. Preceding, the court heard a plea on the stated matter. Justice Qazi Faiz Essa while hearing a plea on the case, remarked; “The ambitious leadership of a fledgling political party [TLP] projected itself as the defender of the Muslim faith. They provoked religious sentiment, stoked the flames of hatred, abused, resorted to violence, and destroyed property worth Rs.163 million.”  Another takeaway from the ruling of the Supreme Court goes like, “Protestors who obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against by the law and held accountable.”

Qazi Faiz Essa’s observation is enough to make a viewpoint on the organization. It is recommended that steps must be taken to curtail the reach of TLP. But allowing its leaders to further myth-spin bogus and inflammatory narratives, catch the attention of masses, effect normalcy in the country, and take hostage federal and provincial capitals many times after that shows sheer incapability on behalf of the state.

Moreover, the recent episode is also another criticism of religiosity interwoven within Pakistani society that has been exploited by opportunists to gain the support of the masses since its birth. TLP, an amalgamation of religio-political narrative, first appeared on the scene when it demanded the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the person who assassinated Governor Punjab Salman Taseer for criticizing blasphemy laws. After the execution of Qadri, Rizvi laid the foundation of Tehreek-E-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) for the purpose to protect the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan under the banner of protecting Honor for Prophet (PBUH). TLP is the political wing of TLYR which emerged as the 5th most popular political group in the electoral race of 2018. These numbers are a barometer to show that the party has gained considerable support among the masses for its narrative

Though the rise of TLP is attributed to fault lines within the domestic political culture of Pakistan and cultural cleavages that exist in the society. The recent protests were the result of its activeness in international affairs relevant to its narrative. The group tried to dictate the foreign relations of Pakistan. In the latest episode, TLP took on the streets again and demanded severing diplomatic ties with France. In the short aftermaths of TLP protests, European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling the review of the GSP+ status of Pakistan for abuse of blasphemy laws and expressed deep concerns over prevailing anti-French sentiments.

To add insult to injury, all of this is happening at a time when Pakistan is looking to create a soft image for herself, seeking an effective role in regional and international organizations for political and economic benefits, lobbying to move out of FATF grey list, and initiating an international campaign to unmask Indian state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, etcetera. Unfortunately, this has seriously jeopardized our pursuit of national interests and can nullify progress.

Disrespect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is an issue sensitive to all Muslims but there is always a better way of doing things. The goal should be to stop disrespect and blasphemy and not forging further cause of hatred. On the other hand, the French president defended the acts as Freedom of Expression – a value so dear to the west – so even if Pakistan sends the French Ambassador back and suffers all the losses, is there any assurance for improvement in a situation regarding blasphemous content? What will be the next step of TLP if this continues? What will be the alternatives for Pakistan after that? Surely, this calls for some reflection on self-proclaimed defenders of religion. Government, on its part, must opt for softer and diplomatic ways in reaching out to France and making them realize the severity of the issue for Muslims.

To sum up, State ought not to be bogged down by religious pressure groups and fanatics like TLP for the reason being that they have not understood long-term national interests. Pledging to Khadim Rizvi on moving the parliament about French ambassador was never a wise act. One should have been vigilant enough to access the Omens. Furthermore, the government must impart this to such groups that they must not test the nerves of the state. It is in the interest of the state as well as government to not let things slip out of hand and go this further hereafter where one more episode similar to this makes international isolation inevitable.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending