The post-COVID-19 world
The coronavirus pandemic has shaken the foundations of global society. Life in nearly all parts of the world has come to a near standstill. Besides its colossal human toll, the economic and political costs of the contagion are considerable. Developed countries are banking on huge stimulus packages to somewhat mitigate the effects of economic disruption. Bewilderment of epidemiologists and scientists on the origins and trajectory of the virus is enormous. Statistical modelling helps but provides no definitive answers to policymakers.
Nature alone will determine the course of the virus and whether or how it will recur and mutate over a period of time. Search for a vaccine is on but may take months or years to materialize and perhaps longer to demonstrate its efficacy. In such difficult circumstances, the world remains leaderless. Political, governance and economic systems in many parts of the world seem completely inadequate to the COVID-19 challenge.
In fact, fault lines have become distinct. Ad hoc measures or the tendency to do more of the same will have catastrophic effects. Civilizational changes seem to be in the offing. The world as we have known and our way of life may be altered beyond recognition in the time to come. The post-COVID-19 world has to be recreated on the basis of higher ideals. It was plain sense that the pandemic challenge required closer global cooperation. This is not happening. For example, the US has cut funding for the World Health Organization precisely at a time when it could have led the way in converting international cooperation to combat the pandemic.
Deep-seated prejudices borne out of insecurity have been in evidence all across the political and geopolitical spectrum. The sad course of human history based on narrowly circumscribed view of self, society and state is being reinforced by policy measures. These trends were already in evidence for the past several years – manifested most notably in the domestic politics of the west. In South Asia, India had taken a turn for the worst in prescribing and practicing policies based on narrow nationalism and tribalism. The US retreat from world leadership is extremely consequential. Regrettably, COVID-19 has reinforced isolationist tendencies. While the US contends the challenges arising from China’s economic rise, its political and economic strategies seem to be self- defeating and contradictory. Economic decoupling is not a realistic option.
In these difficult circumstances, the world remains leaderless. Political, governance and economic systems in many parts of the world seem completely inadequate to the COVID-19 challenge.
It could have profoundly destabilizing effects for the global economy, which has already been ravaged by the coronavirus. The immigration ban, just announced by President Donald Trump, is yet a further manifestation of populist politics trumping reason. The US depends on highly skilled immigrants for its excellence in technology, economy, health care etc. Such shortsighted measures in the cover of the virus will prove to be self-defeating.
The US-China cooperation is absolutely necessary for the health, peace and prosperity of the world. Europe is facing serious dilemmas. Torn between its vital interests and the Transatlantic solidarity imperatives, it must not bend to populist impulses but show the way forward for preventing the world from being mired in darkness by drawing richly from its avowed values of enlightenment. In short, COVID-19 challenge calls for new introspection and drawing moral lessons for political and economic prescriptions for the future. A high degree of idealism is called for in the wake of the pandemic. To the contrary, realists and practitioners of power politics seem to be in ascendancy. In India, the BJP regime under the cover of COVID-19 is furthering its divisive agenda by targeting the Muslims in Kashmir and India, holding them responsible for the virus spread. A new domicile law is being introduced in Jammu and Kashmir to alter the demographic composition of the state. The Line of Control in Kashmir has seen numerous incidents of ceasefire violations by India.
The BJP’s aggressive and expansionist agenda continues to be pursued despite the alarming threat of COVID-19 fatalities in South Asia. Relations between Pakistan and India remain tense. Prospects of sliding into a conflict are real. Shortsighted and bigoted leadership in New Delhi seeks to draw political advantage from the virus at home for electoral gains. It will be difficult to fix politics, governance and economy quickly. Dysfunctional systems will cause serious disruptions. Systemic state dysfunction, in the wake of COVID-19, may trigger conflicts and upheavals across the world on an unprecedented scale.
Moral lessons are not easily learnt and historically mankind has been prone to compound its mistakes until nature or man’s own doings levels the field. Science will surely overcome the virus. Moral values must overcome the dangers inherent in division.
– Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.