While Pakistan is still in the middle of this pandemic and our bodies may be blocked, partially because of the partial lockdown, our electromagnetic beings and our brains keep working on the search for future models; and the reconfiguration of the global and national system that will come after this. Covid-19 has taught us that many things which we thought were important, proven by history and indispensable, are not so important or indispensable any more. Each of us has changed their lives within days completely; if asked before if we could do it, we would have denied it. But it was possible and we did it.
The question that arises from this experience is: should we or even can we go back to the pre-corona habits after it’s over? Many people have been thinking and writing about this and there is common agreement tenor is that the world after Covid-19 will have changed. We used to have a market economy that lately was dominated by neo-liberals who insisted according to their ideology that the market would put things right ideally without any interference of the state. That is why Covid-19 found us with healthcare systems that were not strong enough to handle the onslaught of the epidemic that lacked enough beds, ventilators, protective gear and medicines. Given the pre-corona mantra that goods production should be outsourced to those places with lowest cost Germany had stopped producing certain medicines that are needed for vaccination and other purposes and has been importing them all the way from China, and even from Ukraine where a civil war has been raging, with the result that the ingredients for some medicines have been unavailable. Covid-19 has disrupted all supply lines and only when the Industries allowed to reopen industries, one will see where the supplies would come from. The state will probably have to interfere more to make sure necessary supplies for public health, national security and other items of primary importance are made and managed! Basic systems for securing public health, food production, water distribution etc will have to be planned and managed centrally by the state.
The collapse of the oil market will change global power relations. Alternative energy supplies like solar and wind energy will gain importance as will AI computing and automated manufacturing. That needs people who can not only handle this development but can actively contribute to it. Therefore, the infrastructure for ensuring 5G- data transfer in the country is an enormous project that needs to be directed by the state or with state supervision because that is a matter of national security which cannot be allowed to be in private and/or foreign hands. This is now painfully clear to State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) while by giving the TELCOS banking licences there have been consequences for the banking sector, more importantly the data stored will be accessible to foreign entities that could potentially be a serious threat to national security. Thankfully we have superb Pakistani corporate heads of the Telcos – and they will protect the national interest by ensuring that some greedy middle level managers have not been bought over by inimical interests. Whereas the TELCOS feel there monopoly will be eroded, the participation of tens of millions from the “unbanked” will only add to their business. However changes will surely have to come there as well.
With the world changing Pakistan post-corona cannot stay the same or fall back on old concepts. That applies to the main structures of the state like political system, administration and bureaucracy, military and national security. In all of these domains we are until today following concepts that had been developed in 19th century Europe. It is also high time to think about changing the ideals we have been following. Our political system, administration and army are a colonial British inheritance and have never fully suited our society. The covid-19 global shock will bring to an end the western predominance and should awaken us to finally decolonize our thinking and the concepts we follow. During the last twenty to thirty years regional and global power relations have changed decisively and they still keep changing.
Take for instance defence forces. With the fast development of technology warfare has changed from conventional war. This new form, Hybrid warfare is also called nonlinear warfare. It means the employment of other than conventional military troops, tactics and strategies, through irregular military and paramilitary forces like guerrillas, paramilitaries like Islamic State, Hamas and Hizbullah using terrorist acts as a means, it also means newly created special units of regular armies. In addition we also find use of non-violent means by civilian institutions like psychological assaults using ethnic, religious or national vulnerabilities, provocateurs operating behind enemy lines, economic assaults through sanctions, boycotts and punitive tariffs so as to weaken the enemy economy, cyber assaults at elections and referendums, use of big data like Brexit and US elections and a vast selection of propaganda warfare via electronic and social media, TV channels and publications. Diplomacy is as much involved into this new type of warfare as are fake news. The enormity of this change obviously necessitates a fundamental restructuring of our defence forces; we can’t meet the new challenges with an army based on the 19th century British model!
Therefore, this time should be used to consider what the new structures needed to meet the new challenges would have to look like? Out of the box solution are needed and there is a need to educate and train officers and soldiers so they be able to meet the new requirements. Longstanding problems of our defence forces, such as unity of command of all the constituent parts which have to include frontier corps, air force, navy and army, military intelligence. One must consider how to upgrade these parts and which new units have to be formed so as to meet the challenges hybrid warfare is posing. For example all the services for Border and Internal Security could be grouped into a “Homeland Security Council”. And, given the changing power alliances in the security field, concepts about how to connect parts of the Pakistani military to allied forces of like-minded nations so as to achieve military synergies could be considered and negotiated.
These are just some ideas; many more are possible, the important thing is to not let pass the time idly. The same could be spelled out for our bureaucracy and administrative system and/or our political system. Just recently the opposition was stating that the rations and money that has been distributed to the needy by the government has been given illegally because Parliament was not asked before! Considering the horrendous situation, this is absurd. There are many places in our system where improved concepts could be introduced once this crisis is over. And as any crisis this pandemic is not only an evil, it opens up opportunities as well – we just have to realize them.
Ikram Sehgal is a defence and security analyst while Dr Bettina Robotka, former Professor of South Asian Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin