Under growing threat
Startling information about the working conditions for our frontline soldiers in the war against the Covid-19 coronavirus has been revealed by the National Emergency Operation Centre. At least 444 healthcare workers have tested positive for the virus, 191 of which came in the past week alone. Over 100 each belong to Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. By April 29, at least 216 doctors, 67 nurses and 161 other healthcare staffers had tested positive, including 138 that required hospitalisation. At least eight deaths have also been reported from Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Islamabad.
The government’s claims of concern for healthcare workers are looking even emptier than before. While doctors are protesting over the unavailability of personal protective equipment (PPE), Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza claimed on Thursday that the government was “worried about medical workers” and would soon launch a programme for their protection. For at least eight healthcare workers, it will not be soon enough.
The SAPM also claimed that the government is providing PPE but it “not being used rationally”. He topped this off by saying the government “will train medics on the proper use of PPE.” This means the government believes that supply shortages is not a problem, but rather that medical professionals do not know how to use medical equipment. Either Mirza, himself a medical doctor, has gone all-in to defend the government’s failure, or he is telling the truth, and our doctors are terribly trained. Neither scenario has any silver lining.
Still, we are inclined to believe the former, especially since the federal government’s handling of the quarantine has been astoundingly erratic. Even the PM doesn’t appear to agree to the policies he is signing off on. While the lockdowns have immensely impacted the economy, there are ways to allow the economy to reopen while enforcing social distancing. Doctors are divided on this, but generally, they have been more concerned by the people’s refusal to follow quarantine and distancing rules during the lockdown. If the government could actually get citizens to act as responsible citizens, maybe it would not need to complain about its own lockdown.
When it comes to international relations, nothing quite pushes the mind to anxiety like defence spending. Perhaps it is the immediacy of its violent potential that triggers a slight tinge of panic. Merely imagining the images of war is enough to convince one that the tools to wage it are a bad idea. Even so, as bitter as the pill may be to swallow, spending on defensive capabilities is an inevitability for some nations at least. In an ideal world we would all get along but the ideal exists only in the imagination.
The problem to deal with when designing defence policies is the problem of information. As various internal and external pressures driving competing states’ leaders to certain actions, it becomes virtually impossible to figure out intentions even in the best of cases. And then there is fact that one nation’s actions are seldom perceived by another as the former intended.
The annual report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) revealed that India last year moved to the third spot on the list of the world’s biggest military spenders, behind just the US and China. Although its military budget actually contracted as a percentage of its overall outlay, the development nonetheless shows where New Delhi’s ambitions lie. Some of it may be chalked down to Narendra Modi’s personal obsessions, but as last year’s misadventure revealed, much of India’s populace too supports a more belligerent approach to the region.
The Sipri report also revealed that Pakistan’s own defence spending has risen by 70 per cent over the course of the previous decade. Last year, it was one of the four countries outside of the Middle East to spend over four per cent of its GDP on defence. Until February last year, it would have been easier to be critical about this. But certain actions and reactions lock rival nations on a course that grows harder and harder to change.