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Summer of 2021

Imtiaz Rafi But

The current Covid-19 pandemic around the world is one of the most challenging events for all of humanity. The death-toll and the crisis in terms of economy, livelihood, health and social isolation is greater than that of the Second World War. After the defeat of Germany, the World War became the centre of inspiration for art, literature and movie making. “Summer of 42” was one such project where it depicted how people’s lives were affected by the War. It is only natural that the Covid 19 pandemic will be an epic tale of horror, death, isolation, inspiration and courage to survive for generations to come. In history books it will be denoted as “the Great Lockdown” but the year 2021, with its ominous events is worthy of analysis and reflection as the “Summer of 21”.

The year 2021 is as noteworthy, if not more, than the previous year when the pandemic choked the world for the first time. It seemed like the end of the world, but science came to the rescue once again. Biologists, scientists, doctors and medical staff came out as the winners and saviours of the pandemic. Big corporate bodies jumped in and invested billions of dollars. While there is still no vaccine for AIDS or the common flu, a vaccine was developed by the geniuses of the powerful nations of the world.

Almost simultaneously, Americans, the British, Russians and the Chinese came up with their own versions of the Covid-19 vaccines based on different technologies. It is a marvel of modern science. Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Sinopharm, Cansino and Sputnik were rolled out to vaccinate people. The vaccine would not prevent infection from the virus but would save the person from serious illness and death in case of infection. After initial trials, vaccines were put in mass production.

After the biologists and scientists had done their marvellous work, politicians corrupted the virtue of a common humanity with greed and selfishness. Vaccines were patented under national corporate bodies making them available to certain nationalities for free. Nationalism set out to destroy the world just as in the Second World War when the Germans thought their nation was superior to all others. The Americans and the British in particular, are displaying shameless protectionism wherein their supplies of vaccines are almost exclusive to rich nations only. Russia and China on the other hand have displayed much-needed magnanimity. Putin was the first one to come out to say that the vaccine would be available to all with zero profit. The Chinese began exporting its vaccines to countries which could not afford it. This will all go down in the history of nations.

Pakistan, like many other developing countries, has been unable to secure vaccines on its own. The Chinese government is regularly donating vaccines to the Government of Pakistan, keeping the vaccine programme afloat. The federal government is distributing the vaccine to all provinces and the process is slower than needed. In the language of experts, no one is safe till all of us are safe.

Pakistani pharmaceutical company Searle has entered into a mutual programme with a Chinese firm to make vaccines in Pakistan, but that requires a considerable amount of time to develop and deliver. On the private side, the government has failed to check corruption and hoarding. The Sputnik vaccine is available in India for PKR 1500, and the same is being administered in Pakistan for PKR 12,500.

This is the most critical challenge of our times and apparently the PTI government is failing to deliver as expected. The vaccination programme cannot be run on donations. On the other hand, the numbers are surging. The third wave is infecting around four thousand patients daily and the situation can get much worse. The PTI government has called on the army but will it be enough? Only time will tell.

For now, Pakistan and Bangladesh are keeping their infection numbers within limits, a stark difference from India which is being termed by experts as “a covid hell on earth”. With around three thousand plus deaths per day and around three hundred thousand patients coming in daily, Indian hospitals have been overrun. The Modi government has failed and it is a disaster. The election campaigns and religious ceremonies of Kumbh have ushered a horror story that will be told for decades by Indians. The world and Pakistan stand in solidarity in this harsh moment as crematoriums and burial grounds are running short. It is estimated that the death count being reported is not true and the deaths are twice as high. The labs and hospitals are in short of testing kits and oxygen cylinders—patients with minor illness are dying. No country should be subjected to such horrors that India is facing today.

Overall, more than 3 million people have died since the pandemic began across the world and the numbers keep rising daily. If only the world’s governments had been making more hospitals instead of bombs and missiles, the situation could have been entirely different; it would have been a bearable summer of 2021.

On the diplomatic side, there are significant developments. Joe Biden has launched a campaign to reverse the Trump-regime policies. The firsts of his lists are, re-engaging Iran in denuclearisation talks, pulling out troops from Afghanistan and to end interference in the Middle East violence. All these changes have far-reaching consequences.

At the outset, the negotiation process with Iran has prompted states like the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to review their position on Iran. Mohammad Bin Salman, who always took a hardline against Iran, gave a statement in May that he seeks cordial relations with Iran. The Iraq government along with Pakistan has volunteered to assist in the normalisation process. Tehran has announced negotiation and compliance as soon as sanctions imposed by Trump are lifted.

In Afghanistan, there is chaos on the horizon. The Taliban have resurfaced with full might in the province of Helmand. The failing of the Afghan government’s will is a hard reality. Casualties and violence are expected to rise but Biden and the US government have vowed to exit Afghanistan completely by September 2021. Now, it is up to the people of Afghanistan on what kind of future they want; with or without the Taliban. Pakistan’s think tanks are already considering various options to keep the peace and avoid widescale violence. The Pakistan Taliban have been defeated comprehensively by the armed forces; a resurgence could have dire implications for the people of Pakistan. Another war is not affordable with the ongoing Covid complications.

It is a challenging time to be alive. The world is in peril. Humanity has come to terms that it is not all-powerful and that it is ill-equipped with the threats that exist for everyone. As human beings we are all in the same boat, divided by borders and conflicts but connected in our common humanity and the confines of this planet. The summer of 2021 will be a lesson for generations to come. The people alive today will tell tales of how they faced and lived in that time when the whole planet came to a halt with death and horror looming large. The Covid-19 pandemic and the human world today is faced with its fragile mortality and a message of our common humanity. — Courtesy The Nation