The global fight against Caronavirus is being complicated in India’s western neighbourhood. Its well-meaning Covid-19 Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) fund can be of little use against  serious diplomatic and military moves that appear to ignore the intensity of the pandemic.
Confrontation is building in the Gulf as Iran, already sanctions-hit and now Carona-hit, defies the American gunboats and launches a military satellite. The conflict in Yemen between its Houthis and the Saudi Arabian forces continues.

India can be of little help to Afghanistan, a Saarc member, when the United States, keen to quit before Carona pandemic gets American forces stationed there, is desperately pushing the peace pact signed at Doha with the Taliban, well before the presidential elections in November in which President Donald Trump would seek a second term.

Another Saarc member Pakistan, deeply involved in making the Doha Accord work to facilitate the US’ withdrawal and hoping to extend its influence in the region, wants to play the Kashmir card, going by Jammu and Kashmir police chief, Dilbgh Singh’s statement, that Carona-affected militants are being sought to be pushed into India.  

Even if this does not happen, Pakistan poses a serious threat to the region. Relatively better placed to combat Carona, with USD 8 million from the US and 1.4 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it has frittered away its advantage.  An inefficiently handled “total lockdown”, for which Prime Minister Imran Khan had publicly expressed reservations, has been replaced by what is being touted as “smart lockdown”.

Without effective social distancing, one of the basics prescribed for fighting Carona, Pakistanis will continue to congregate at mosques during the holy Ramzan. Reports of the first day were that 80 percent of he mosques had violated these norms.  This is when Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia that is home to Islam’s highest shrines, have asked their people to pray at home. The Khan Government has given in to pressures from the ulema, while also placing on them the onus to ensure that the mosques and the devotees take precautions. Doctors have written to Khan expressing alarm, warning of lack of its feasibility and a serious spike in cases by the end of the holy month.    

Too many developments occurring simultaneously confound any coherent analysis. A common thread that runs through them is of Carona taking the back-seat in the plans and actions of various stake holders in the region working at cross-purposes. A vast region, sorely short of medical facilities to combat Carona, has the potential of becoming the world’s worst pandemic hot-spot.

Credible reports indicate  that the US and Pakistan are both worried that Taliban in custody of President Ashraf Ghani-led regime in Kabul, herded together, could succumb to Carona, angering the Taliban and jeopardizing the Doha peace pact. While the Kabul regime wants to retain the prisoners as bargaining chip, Taliban are stepping up attacks to wrest more military and territorial gains.

All the three are worried about the detained Taliban, but show little concern for the suffering of the Afghan people. The Ghani Government is seriously short of hospitals and medical facilities needed to combat Carona. That only 840 cases have been detected with 33 deaths as on April 20would seem a gross under-reporting of the pandemic. Afghanistan has the least testing facilities in the region and cannot really prevent the spread.      

The ground situation is worsened by the US. Instead of helping Afghans fight Carona, it has threatened to withhold USD one billion aid to somehow get Ghani and his principal rival, Dr Abdullah, to work together, talk to the Taliban and make the Doha pact work.

When Kabul can hardly govern and is constantly fighting the Taliban, fighting Carona would per force be a low priority. The three-week lockdown was effective, if at all, only in Kabul, not in much of the country. Shia-majority Herat, bordering Iran is the pandemic’s epicenter, making Tehran restless.

All those who were on the negotiation table at Doha, from all sides, are 50-plus.  It is now-or-never to gain power for the Taliban who fought the Russians and then, the Americans — Corona be damned.

Coronavirus could be deadlier than the war, Ezatullah Meherdad, Lindsay Kennedy and Nathan Paul Southern, in a report dated April 17, 2020.

Ten thousand prisoners Ghani Government plans to release would carry the disease home. Sowing poppy continue to be a lucrative activity irrespective of war or Carona and this is sowing time in parts of Afghanistan. Worse: the end of spring season marks resumption of military offensive.

Afghanistan’s internal and external power stakeholders, desperate to further their respective and conflicting interests, are in no mood to call even a temporary halt to coordinate a fight against the deadly virus.  

There are no takers of the United Nations’ warning that the spread of the pandemic could cause a global humanitarian disaster. Its appeal for a global ceasefire in all conflict zones has fallen, predictably, on deaf ears.


Mahendra Ved is a veteran journalist who has served with the Times of India, Hindustan Times and United News of India. The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

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