Monday July 22, 2024

The corona fallout

By Saleem Safi
May 18, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world. There is not a single country or area of life left which has not been affected by this epidemic in one way or another.

In Pakistan too, it has affected every individual, every class and every sector. The duration of the pandemic keeps increasing, as do the negative effects it has on both individual and society. It seems, though, that the only class that has apparently benefited temporarily from this epidemic is our ruling class. This is probably why our government – contrary to every country, from China to Saudi Arabia and from Turkey to Russia – is not taking the issue seriously.

For example, this pandemic seems to have managed to overshadow our government's failed economic policies. In the same way, an atmosphere of hatred against the government was developing, which was temporarily suspended by the virus. Similarly, the government's relations had deteriorated within and with other parties and stakeholders to a point where a rift had developed on the political front. But, again, a one-page policy was forced by the arrival of the coronavirus.

Thus, the government must be content that, as long as the Covid-19 crisis is there, there can be no campaign against the government by the opposition or anyone else. The current government has failed miserably on the foreign front as well. Relations with China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran have been strained due to a failed foreign policy based on populism and non-serious behavior.

For their part, the Chinese seem shocked and upset. For these issues as well as on the Kashmir issue the government had to be held accountable but because of the coronavirus pandemic, these topics disappeared both from politics and journalism. The nation rightly had to ask our resident Muhammad bin Qasim what he was going to do in response to Modi's bullying on all fronts, as well as question him on what narrative this government has to tell the Kashmiris. The emergence of the pandemic saved the government from having to answer these questions. That is why there is peace and contentment in the houses of power right now, as opposed to the sighs and groans that emanate from the rest of the country.

As soon as the Corona problem is brought under control (we hope that is, God willing, as soon as possible), the Kashmiris themselves and the Pakistanis who love them have to raise this question with all their might: when the Modi government was doing all this unilaterally, how was our government responding?

In the meanwhile, the situation on the western border is also not satisfactory. While new crises are emerging in our Pakhtun belt, the dream of peace in Afghanistan also does not seem to be anywhere near reality. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were celebrations in Pakistan because of the US-Taliban deal, as if peace would come to Afghanistan overnight and our influence would increase. But what was happening there seemed to be a new catastrophe.

We may have forgotten Afghanistan and our foreign minister may have started dreaming of the prime minister's spot instead of focusing on his work but the Afghans have certainly not forgotten us. What is worrisome is that what we had hoped for is not happening in Afghanistan as expected and if the country goes back to civil war, Pakistan will not be able to avoid being burnt by this fire.

It was decided that intra-Afghan talks would begin on March 10, immediately after the Taliban-US deal in February, but the month of May is here and there are no signs of intra-Afghan talks. The Afghan government has so far released about 1,000 Taliban prisoners, but the Taliban are still not ready for a ceasefire. After the brutal terrorist attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar last week, Dr Ashraf Ghani also ordered his security forces to step up their operations. Although the Taliban distanced themselves from the attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar, they did claim responsibility for the suicide attack in Gardez the next day.

Obviously, unless the Taliban agree to a ceasefire with the Afghan government, why shouldn't they be suspected of such acts? What is the logic behind their positon that they will not carry out major operations in the big cities but that the war against the Afghan government will continue in the rest of the country? This is a 'jihad' in which there are no attacks against the Americans, but there is insistence upon a war with fellow Afghans.

On the other hand, the Afghan government is to negotiate with the Taliban, but the dispute over the election of Dr Ashraf Ghani has not been resolved yet. Now that there is no consensus on the Afghan government, how and who will come up with a consensus for a negotiating team with the Taliban? Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no senior US official came to Afghanistan except Zalmay Khalilzad. The US had pushed hard for its deal with the Taliban and had placed pressure on every country and character concerned, but now it seems to have no particular interest in ending the electoral dispute between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. They are not pressurising the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire with the Afghan government.

And, because of the virus, not only will the US want to withdraw their forces sooner, but the pressure on the US economy may make it work on this even more swiftly. Thus, there is a growing fear that the US will leave Afghanistan as it is – without intra-Afghan reconciliation – and withdraw or remain confined to its bases. That way the Taliban will re-occupy half of Afghanistan as in the past and the country will once again be thrust into a new civil war and a new proxy war. Imagine the horrible challenges to Pakistan's security when there is a new wave of civil war and proxy war in Afghanistan on the one hand and unrest in our Pakhtun Beltt on the other.

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.