The densely populated South Asia region faces a threat not just from the military rivalry between India and Pakistan but from the novel coronavirus as well.
India is the third-worst affected country in the world. Pakistan is at number 7 in terms of active cases. At the time of publishing, and as per Worldometers, India had 4,41,733 active cases of COVID-19 and Pakistan had 94,713.
This shared problem provides an opportunity for both countries to tackle the coronavirus pandemic by beginning a joint and co-operative approach. This would help save more lives and avoid the possible loss of many more lives in this region than have been lost due to conflicts here since 1947.
The question is whether this is possible. We submit that it is.
No doubt there is much that India and Pakistan have done wrong – neither country is testing enough, for example – but there are some things they have got right. Pakistan’s smart lockdown strategy – it did not follow a full lockdown or curfew as enforced in India – has proved to be effective. This has not only helped in reducing the number of cases, but also helped the economy to remain standing.
Early in the onset of the pandemic, Narendra Modi flagged COVID as an issue that the South Asian region needed to jointly tackle and a special fund was also created. One must also appreciate the government of Pakistan for offering help to India to overcome the coronavirus by sharing its successful cash transfer programme. Unfortunately, the Indian government declined the offer. Had there been better co-operation and understanding, India would have also benefited from Pakistan’s successful efforts in tackling this threat.
Both India and Pakistan have very good scientists and medical experts, many of whom who are working in the United States and Europe. For instance, India has several scientists specialised in this field, and Pakistan has experts like special assistant to the prime minister on national health services, Zafar Mirza, who has long-standing experience of working at national, regional and global levels in the health sector.
In our opinion, the governments of both countries should set up a joint team of such experts and scientists who specialise in pandemics to consult with each other on strategies and to collaborate in research on a war footing to bring out a vaccine for or a medicine to treat COVID-19. This team should be given adequate funds and other facilities for their work by both governments.
It must be emphasised that the problem is scientific, and can therefore only be resolved by scientists, not politicians, judges or administrators. Science is international, not national. Therefore a joint team of scientists of India, Pakistan, and also some other countries should immediately be formed for this purpose.
Private entrepreneurs like Biocon head Kiran Mazumdar Shaw should also be included in this team.
There has been a shortage of ventilators in both India and Pakistan. As per the figures reported in media, there are only 48,000 ventilators for 1.3 billion Indians and only 1,650 ventilators for 200 million Pakistanis.
This is an alarming situation for which both countries can work together to overcome the hurdle. Pakistan’s ministry of science and technology has announced the production of local ventilators. India too has given licences to three firms to manufacture ventilators.
The relevant ministries of both countries should assist and facilitate each other in overcoming such shortages, at this hour of need.
This non-traditional security threat is not limited to any specific nation, religion, caste or creed.
The leadership of both India and Pakistan countries should let go of their egos and traditional rivalries, and try to overcome this crisis as a united front on humanitarian grounds. This would not only help foster better relations between the two countries, but also bring regional peace and stability.
Justice Markandey Katju is former judge, Supreme Court of India. Amile Gulzar is an advocate in Lahore, Pakistan. Dr Salfiyah Shamim is a Kashmiri doctor living in Srinagar.