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February 21, 2021

Post-Covid world: Let’s rethink how we live and how we should

Karachi

February 21, 2021

“It is impossible for people in Defence and Clifton to be healthy if the localities across the street are teeming with disease. The disease will catch us,” said noted economist Dr Kaiser Bengali on Saturday.

“We cannot ignore the health of our poor citizens. This is the lesson that we have to learn and act on,” he said while speaking at a panel discussion, arranged by Adab Festival founder and director Ameena Saiyid on Friday in the garden of 41, Khayaban-e-Jabal, Defence Housing Authority (DHA), on a book titled, ‘Making Sense of Post COVID-19 Politics’, published by the Light Stone publisher.

The book, which comprises 11 chapters, touches upon all the themes that have become important in the last one year. “We have talked about in the book how Covid is going to change our lives and then we moved to what is happening at the global level to the regional level,” said Dr Huma Baqai, the associate dean of the Faculty of Business Administration and associate professor of social sciences at the IBA.

The book is edited by Dr Huma Baqai and Dr Nausheen Wasi, assistant professor and director Programme on South Asia Studies at the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi (KU). The book is supported by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations.

“A bird’s eye view of the changed and rapidly-evolving geopolitical landscape, the book is a useful and timely compilation of work by eminent Pakistani scholars and area specialists and an essential read for all those trying to map and make sense of the post- pandemic world,” writes Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi about the book.

The book has a paper by Dr Farhan Hanif Siddiqui from the Quaid-e-Azam University on ‘Post-Pandemic Politics of the 18th Amendment’.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir President Sardar Masood Khan has written in the book about how Azad Kashmir was more prepared to the crisis because it managed the 2005 earthquake.

Dr Wasi has given a reality check that it’s going to be back to normal as the world has managed plague before such as Spanish flue.

Dr Baqai and her research associate at the IBA, Sabiha Mehreen, have written a chapter titled ‘Rising Competition between the US and China: A Modern-Day Tragedy’.

Dr Rabia Akhtar, who is head of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research and School of Integrated Social Sciences at the University of Lahore, Dr Baqai said, calls it a fight of the elephants and we are in the middle of it.

“The book further delves into the subject -- if world can carry on the greed-driven capitalism or we have to rethink capitalism – and I think that is the theme that runs across all the papers [in the book],” she said.

She was of the view that Covid-19 had also taught us about realism, “the kind of realism that led to two world wars where countries realised that every country is for itself, and border control became tougher”.

In the case of the crisis that emerged during the pandemic, Dr Wasi said that the hardened reality was that we already knew that this crisis was on the horizons, “but we didn’t do anything”.

Globalisation’s negative side, she pointed out, had been on the agenda of international institutions for long. “But unfortunately, we did not invest much in the public healthcare system. We didn’t do anything to control the population growth. The result is in front of us. The question is, is there any chance that we see the world responding better next time?”

After the two world wars, the United Nations (UN) was formed. The prime minister of Britain back then, Winston Churchill, said spoke of a “world order” in which “the principles of justice and fair play … protect the weak against the strong”, a world where the UN, freed from the Cold War stalemate, was poised to fulfil the historic vision of its founders, a world in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations”.

Shedding light on Dr Wasi’s chapter in the book titled ‘Pandemic and Change in International Politics: A Historicist Analysis’, Bengali said that the promise of the new world order, “whatever it was designed to be at whatever time, has never really come to path. Although large-scale wars have never taken place except in recent years in the Middle East”. How we deal with Covid, he said, is also being termed the beginning of a new world order.

Speaking specifically on Pakistan, he said that when a nation doesn’t have institutions, “you cannot manage any crisis. The lesson you learn from the crisis is that you have to have strong institutions.”

When the economic crisis emerged during the pandemic, he said, there were massive layoffs. The government through the State Bank of Pakistan announced packages for employers so that they kept paying their workers.

There were several employers who were even paying from their own pockets. “But they all said, we can do up to a point, and not beyond that point, which was understandable,” he said. But there were also those employers, he shared, who took the money from the government and fired their workers. “That happened because there were no records.”

At this point, he stressed, even if one conceives government’s efforts to control mass layoffs as honest, it did not work very efficiently. The state wanted to reach out to the ordinary worker, “but there were no means to do it”.

The new liberal philosophy says that the state has no business to do anything; the private sector will take over. Education and health, he said, are now private sector commodities.

During the pandemic, the state had no means to reach out to the sick. “The private sector was charging from Rs75,000 a day to Rs125,000 a day,” he pointed out. “The private sector began to profit from the misery of the people because the state was absent.” In every crisis, he said, some sector make more money, some lose money. While IT companies and hospitals made money, during the pandemic, there were others who also minted money out of the pandemic such as gravediggers.

“In the US, funeral parlours have made a lot of money,” he said. In Karachi, a very organised beggar mafia has made money, as their recruitment has increased. “When all this was happening, the state was absent.”

Another lesson to be learned from the pandemic, according to him, was having a strong local government. “China managed to send food to every family for months, because they had a record of who’s staying where, because of an organised local government structure,” he said, adding that in Pakistan the government was helpless, and “even the enforcement of the lockdown became a problem”.