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Pakistan must use the new avenues opened by the pandemic


While we are 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 systems 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 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 can we go back to the pre-corona habits after it’s all over? Many people have been thinking and writing about this. There is agreement 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 that the market would put things right 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. The health system lacked enough beds, ventilators, protective gear and medicines. Given the pre-corona mantra that goods production should be outsourced to those places with the lowest cost of production, Germany stopped producing certain medicines that are needed for vaccination and other purposes and had been importing them all the way from China, and even from Ukraine where a civil war had been raging. 

The result is that ingredients for some medicines are unavailable. Covid-19 has disrupted all supply lines. Only when industries are allowed to reopen will one 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. These need people who can not only handle these developments but can actively contribute to them. 

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 the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). By giving 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 in the Telcos – and who will protect the national interest by ensuring that greedy middle level managers are not bought over by inimical interests.

With the world changing, post-corona Pakistan cannot stay the same or fall back on old concepts. That applies to the main structures of the State like the political system, the administration and the bureaucracy, the 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 high time we thought about changing the ideals we have been following. Our political system, administration and the army are a colonial British inheritance and have never fully suited our society. The Covid-19 global shock will bring to an end 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 the defence forces. The fast development of technological warfare has changed conventional war. As new form, “hybrid warfare”, is also called “nonlinear warfare.” It means the employment of other than conventional military troops, tactics and strategies. The reference here is to irregular military and paramilitary forces like guerrillas, paramilitaries like the Islamic State, Hamas and Hizbullah using terrorist acts as a means. It also means newly created special units in regular armies. 

In addition we also have to use non-violent means by civilian institutions like psychological assaults using ethnic, religious or national vulnerabilities, agent 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 in 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, time should be used to consider what the new structures needed to meet the new challenges have to look like? Out of the box solutions are needed and there is a need to educate and train officers and soldiers so that they may 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 must be attended to. One must consider how to upgrade these parts and which new units have to be formed so as to meet the challenges of hybrid warfare.

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 not to pass the time idly. The same could be spelt out for our bureaucracy and administrative systems and/or our political system. Just recently, the opposition was stating that the rations and money that had been distributed to the needy by the government had been given illegally because Parliament was not asked before! Considering the horrendous Covid-19 situation, this is absurd. 

There are many places in our system where improved concepts could be introduced once the pandemic is over. And like any crisis, the pandemic is not only an evil, it opens up opportunities as well. We just have to realize them.


This article is written jointly by Ikram Sehgal and Dr Bettina Robotka


(Ikram Sehgal is a defence and security analyst while Dr Bettina Robotka, former Professor of South Asian Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin)