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Daily Times Editorial 7 July 2020

UN’s ‘Pause’ campaign


Even half-a-year into the coronavirus pandemic it is startling that the United Nations (UN) has had to note that misinformation is spreading faster than the virus itself, driven no doubt by all sorts of news items and individual posts going viral on social media. Sometimes it can be some people’s harmless sharing of a message that later turns out to be false or, in a slightly worse case scenario, such trends can also develop as a result of deliberate spreading of fake news all across the world. The result, either way, is people getting very wrong information about a very dangerous situation.
All this has pushed the UN to initiate a behavioural change campaign called ‘Pause’, which urges people especially social media users to pause and think before sharing any piece of information regarding the pandemic to see if it could be fake or controversial. Such small measures, according to behavioural scientists, go a long way towards filtering the kind of information that eventually gets pushed through. These are extraordinary times, of course, and it is a matter of great fortune for everybody that they have come when the world is so strongly connected because of the internet, something that has enabled a lot of people to continue working and earning. Yet this remarkable technology is not without a potentially very dangerous downside as well, as we have seen and nobody less than the UN secretary general has had to take notice. Not just individual social media users but governments should also encourage the UN’s preferred way of dealing with this situation and advise people to pause a moment, take a breath or two, and then see if a particular news item of piece of information that touches one emotionally is really worth sharing with others or not.
The best way to deal with such a situation would be to leverage the UN platform, which most of the world’s countries subscribe to, and push for a combined policy that all member countries would be required to implement. Ideally each county should by now have had a solid national narrative about the issue. But while some governments have taken that trouble, most have not. And there could hardly be a better time for working on something just like that. Let us not forget that at risk is not a few people’s, or even governments’, reputations but lives of thousands and millions of people. The UN’s Pause initiative, therefore, should be supported in every possible way for the benefit of everybody across the globe. *



Iran-China alliance


The only thing even remotely controversial about the building China-Iran alliance, a strategic pact that would last 25 years according to news coming out of Tehran, is that it rubs western countries like USA and regional peace breakers like Israel the wrong way. China is already Iran’s number-one trade partner and the biggest market for its oil, even though the oil part is constantly hamstrung by extremely unfair sanctions imposed by Washington. But it is no longer any secret that countries like China and Iran have now been put into very awkward positions because of what can only be described as very unfair policies of the United States. Little surprise, then, that they are getting into bilateral alliances of their own to protect their interests.
There is also an instructive side to these negotiations that countries like Pakistan should pay attention to. And Iran-China partnership makes all the more sense because they are in the same region and face similar issues. Since China is also pretty good friends with Russia and Pakistan, all that is needed is for all these countries to play along and there could well be a formidable regional bloc, something like a South Asian crescent, to protect the region’s interests. Sadly Pakistan has not exactly cultivated regional alliances in an intelligent manner over the last few decades, and its relations with Iran have always shifted because of what our friends, mostly in very different parts of the world, have asked of it. That is the principal reason for Islamabad losing a degree of regional influence and Gwadar being put into competition by the Chahbahar port which is being built and shall be run by the active partnership of India and Iran.
Pakistan should therefore think very carefully before taking a position on what Beijing and Tehran are up to. No doubt our friends in the Gulf and donors across the Atlantic would already be making frantic calls to Islamabad not to say anything positive about whatever is happening between China and Iran. But listening to such advice could be counterproductive not just for Pakistan’s own interests but the region’s as well. With all other Asian multi-country bodies, like SAARC, compromised because of India’s hegemonic designs, the region badly needs a solid platform that would project the positions of all its countries. And if China and Iran are taking the first baby steps in that direction, pushed along most probably by Russia as well, then it only makes sense for Pakistan to pay its cards very wisely also. *
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