Can the pandemic bring India and Pakistan together?
Prime Minister Imran Khan, leading politicians, journalists, and citizens from all walks of life in Pakistan have “expressed support and offered prayers for people in India,” where a new outbreak of Covid-19 has collapsed the “country’s health infrastructure.”
Although this is not the right time to criticize the Indian government for its failure to protect its people from Covid-19, ordinary people in India should be reminded how they have offended Imran Khan’s offer of help by responding, “Mind your own business!”
Sadly, this is not the first time the Indian government has insulted Pakistan on this issue. Last June, New Delhi crowed, “Our Covid package as large as Pak’s GDP,” while in one other instance, India responded, “A government surviving on China’s alms thinks it can help India. A leader with a cash-strapped economy wants India to learn from him.”
Undeterred, Khan last week urged “solidarity with India to fight Covid-19,” saying, “This must be fought together.”
Now that Pakistan “desires peace,” it should be valued and responded to with matching gestures. Perhaps this is a good time to consult the recent history of natural disasters and pandemics and learn from the experiences of Turkey and Greece.
It is worth recalling a 2005 report: “The 1999 earthquake in the Marmara region of Turkey prompted Greek expressions of sympathy that improved relations between the traditional rivals, and the Indonesian government and Aceh separatists agreed to a peace deal after the December 2004 tsunami ravaged the region.”
The latest wave of Covid-19 has traumatized the social and political landscape of India. Sadly, today it is India that is suffering; tomorrow it could be any nation on this planet. So what can be done? A resolve to ask for forgiveness, forget the past and strive for a peaceful future.
Remember, the law of nature never changes. “What goes around comes around,” so let’s give everyone space to breathe and live peacefully. Let’s move forward with a resolve to respect humanity.
Images shape opinion
Long before the invention of the Internet and social-media networking, “Photos from a Century of Epidemics” were evidence that images of people affected by diseases have changed “history’s course and reinforced human perceptions of frailty.” So in brief, “Pandemics that changed history” is not an illusion but a reality.
A powerful image can bring significant change in society. It can move people’s opinions, shake the power corridors and force governments to take action.
The popular English proverb “A picture is worth a thousand words” seems relevant. Recall, for instance, the tragic death of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach that “changed the world.” The world will never forget the iconic image of Alan, or many other incidents like the iconic picture of “Napalm girl” Kim Phuc during in the Vietnam War.
In 2015, The Guardian columnist Sean O’Hagan document this phenomenon under the headline, “The photographs that moved the world to tears – and to take action.”
Fast-forward to last week, when in India millions watched on TV screens and social-media sites desperate people running for help for their loved ones dying of Covid-19.
An image of an elderly woman sitting on the ground next to an oxygen cylinder appeared in two top-trending Twitter hashtags #IndiaNeedsOxygen and #PakistanStandsWithIndia caught my attention like millions of other new-media users.
As it turned out, the very next morning I learned from an article in The Print that the viral photo was an old picture of an incident that “took place in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, in April 2018.”
Nevertheless, the image had an impact on millions of ordinary people in India and Pakistan, so I don’t much care about its authenticity in these testing times. Within hours, a Pakistani charity, the Edhi Foundation offered medical aid to India.
Social media’s reach, power, and impact are undeniable. But unfortunately, still, not many people in the underdeveloped world can afford this technology, or know how to use it.
A research report reveals that of Pakistan’s total population of 223 million, only 46 million use social media. Hence it is difficult to say how many active Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube users there are, as forged accounts are also a reality.
However, the increasing number of social-media posts and solidarity campaigns in favor of people fighting Covid-19 in India and beyond shows that any one of us regardless of color, creed, faith or ethnicity can be moved. Emotional Pakistani Twitter users began to implore their prime minister to offer help to India – even as their own country is also being hit hard by the virus.
There is hope, then, that the long-held antipathy between the two sides could be turned into sympathy by shared efforts to save lives. Think of the top Twitter trends in Pakistan, #SaveIndia; #IndianLivesMatter and “Humanity First.”
It’s time for peace and time to save lives. Will these sentiments stay alive once the deadly Covid wave vanishes, or will these feelings simply evaporate? It is also time to remind peace lovers in India that the lives of Kashmiris, Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims equally matter.
Think about it. It’s time to make a universal hashtag: “#AllLivesMatter.”