Daily Times Editorial 10 September 2020
Back to school, but with care
Since the government has taken the lead, quite literally, in the fight against the coronavirus it is only natural that Pakistan also becomes one of the first countries to seriously test the matter of reopening schools. And after much deliberation the government has decided to finally go ahead with the decision and send children back to their schools, in phases, beginning September 15. By the end of the month, according to the ministry of education, all students should be back in their classrooms. All that is very nice and pretty understandable. And now that the matter of what to do has been settled, it is also very important to work out just how it is to be done.
Nobody in the government or otherwise should need any reminding anymore of the urgent need to practice all social distancing SOPs very strictly. Pakistan must not lose sight of the fact that other states which jumped head first into reopening schools had to go back on their decisions very quickly because they were just unable to get everybody to follow all the instructions. The result was a very rapid spread of the virus across communities that once again slowed down economies and forced yet more rescue packages out of already suffering governments.
Nobody should also be under the impression that the fight against the coronavirus has been effectively won. While there can be no denying that, whether because of the government’s smart lockdown strategy or through some miracle, Pakistan has emerged much better from its lockdown than other countries, that is not to say that the virus cannot stage a dramatic comeback if we let our guard down. The government has to address a number of concerns when taking difficult decisions like this one. The economics of the whole thing is easily understood. Yet children’s education is a much deeper matter because the damage to the economy will be overcome, no matter how long it takes, but the students missing out on important months and years of education will be impacted for their whole lives. So the government’s decision to send children back to their schools makes sense in more ways than one.
The government must make sure, though, that all schools have been properly briefed about all the care that needs to be taken. The rest of the economy has reopened without much trouble. There’s no reason for this part not to work out nicely as well.
FM in Moscow
One of the more fruitful outcomes of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s visit to Moscow to attend the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers is that he’ll get to sit down with a number of regional counterparts on the sidelines. And since these are unquestionably unprecedented and changing times, one can bet that what will be discussed now will also be very different from the usual exchanges after working hours when these meetings are held. US-China friction, their trade wars, all the tariffs and threats of sanctions, etc, have all combined to push Beijing further into Moscow’s embrace over the last four years, to put it very mildly.
Quite significantly, organisations like the United Nations (UN) have also lost their teeth when it comes to getting pressing international matters settled. One reason is the completely out-of-date composition of the security council, which still gives overwhelming weightage not to mention right to veto to a group of allies that won a world war more than seven decades ago. And there is literally no chance of UN reform since the organisation’s charter requires not just two-third majority in favour of any change but also legislation within member countries. Then, if any of that is at all possible, there is the matter of getting the states whose powers others are looking to curtail to play along as well.
In such circumstances organisations like the SCO gain even more importance. The time is not far when the US gets the UN to sanction one of the states it doesn’t like but others, some of whom are members of outfits like SCO, have important diplomatic and commercial relations with. Then, considering that they would have the backing of other partners within their own grouping, some countries could simply choose to ignore UN’s directives and do as they wish. Would the US commit its military to every such act of defiance?
Of late, Pakistan has been gaining importance and respect within the SCO. Its bilateral relations with China are perhaps better than with any other country and at least since the last half of the last PML-N government, ties with Russia have also been slowly improving even though the lead was taken by the two countries’ militaries. A point also came, very recently, when Russia, China, Pakistan and India were to conduct military exercises but New Delhi pulled out at the last moment because of all the friction with Beijing and the matter at the Line of Actual Control. The other countries, meanwhile, have been improving their relations and the foreign minister’s trip to Moscow should take things further.