Daily Times Editorial 9 July 2020
Now, a second wave?
It seems more and more likely, which each passing day, that a second wave of the novel coronavirus is inevitable. And OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has already warned that should it come, it could knock yet another 80 million people out of work in the world’s most advanced nations. That is a terrifying number indeed, especially considering the millions upon millions of jobs that have already been lost. OECD also noted that the economic crisis stemming from the pandemic is very different from anything that has been seen before. “Up to 10 times fewer hours were worked in some countries, compared with the first few months of the 2008 financial crisis,” said its latest report, comparing trends with the last great financial disaster which came just a little over a decade ago.
If such a high number of job losses is expected in advanced countries, one can only imagine what is going to happen in less developed ones; countries just like Pakistan. That is why it made a lot of sense for Prime Minister Imran Khan to say at the ILO Global Summit on Covid-19 and the World of Work, which he addressed via video link, that the international community needs to formulate a combined strategy to protect the most vulnerable segments of society, especially labourers, from the coronavirus. Poor countries face a double whammy in this regard, since not only are their own economies getting wiped out, but economic pain in the more advanced economies is also resulting in less remittances as the virus bites deeper, compromising one of the foremost sources of income.
The other pressing problem is that unemployment almost always comes hand in hand with increased rates of poverty. Countries where a big chunk of the population lives on either side of the poverty line stand to be overwhelmed, even in the mildly bad scenarios being calculated in case of a second wave, by a sea of unemployed, underfed, poor people who have nothing to lose. How such situations can lead to out-of-control social agitation hardly needs any explanation. International financial institutions as well as rich governments should, therefore, immediately put a hold on all debt payments from poor countries to give them whatever additional fiscal space possible to prepare in advance for some of the biggest problems headed their way.
Winding up the Afghan war
Afghanistan, Pakistan and China have rightly warned America against a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan because it seems that US President Trump might try to speed up the process to score political points in the upcoming presidential election in his country. The third round of the Trilateral Vice Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue urged all concerned parties to make sure that the exit is very orderly, otherwise there is the threat of terrorist groups, of which there are many in Afghanistan, would certainly take advantage of any vacuum that is created. Already there has been a sudden surge in violence in the country, with side actors like ISIS doing what they can to score as many hits as possible.
Another major worry is the delay in the commencement in the intra-Afghan dialogue that will really get the political process going in the country. It turns out that although the dialogue was due to start on March 10, disagreements between the Afghan government and Taliban commanders about prisoner release and exchange has put the whole thing on hold so far. The government is unwilling to release some 600 controversial inmates, because it says the crimes they have committed are unforgivable and there is also the threat of repeat offences if they are let out, and the Taliban would not have any other in their place. And that’s where the matter hit a wall some months ago and things haven’t moved ahead an inch since then.
There is an urgent need to time the withdrawal just right. Doing it too soon, before the Afghans have sorted out their business, could make the whole thing collapse and amount to an easy walkthrough victory for other terrorist groups. Delaying it too long, on the other hand, would no longer make it feasible for the Americans to give too much attention till the elections are over and the new administration, whether or not headed by the same president, has any time to give to it. The situation of ordinary Afghans, who sit, wait and suffer while other people decide their future, can only be described as desperate. This is the closest they have come to peace in a very long time, even though the manner in which the peace process was negotiated left a lot to be desired and it seemed, more often than not, that it would not be successful. Yet the country is now within a fighting chance of peace. And it must do everything possible to grab it.