Peace influencing pandemics via human security

Opinion piece published in Daily Times, June 03, 2020  

The Corona pandemic will have a long-term change and effect in domestic and global politics like global and local -governance, -security and -healthcare to name a few. Every country is going through emergency measures. Armed forces, Police, and health departments are playing a leading role in limiting the spread of coronavirus. Quarantining communities, managing crowds, sealing of borders, providing food and healthcare on war-footings, giving salaries and honorarium during emergency lockdown and ban on travelling both domestically as well as internationally are some of the measures encompassed in social distancing. In other words, states are focusing more on human security- protecting people directly as opposed to protecting states and securing its boundaries only. Security forces and law enforcement agencies are mobilized to help civilian governments in almost all countries of the world. This proves that traditional security has kept human security at core of their efforts and at zenith. Without army’s role, curbing the consequences of the pandemic was and is not possible. Hence, human security has become an essential ingredient of traditional security during Coronavirus pandemic.  

Unprecedented pandemic is encountering the security forces extraordinarily. It’s a novel situation as it has never been the part of military/police training. Their role has helped in reducing burden on fragile health department of countries like Pakistan as well as developed countries and contributed in taming fatalities.

On the contrary, this may be kept in view that in conflict-ridden countries, the insurgents and terrorists have taken advantage of the health emergency in civilized world by strengthening themselves, aggravating violence, and prolonging fragility. Human rights violations are widely taking place in Palestine, Kashmir, Syria, Yemen and North Korea during COVID-19 crisis.

In Pakistan, army and police along with health-care workers are the frontline fighters against the pandemic. As per article 245 of the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the army is called to assist civilian government for quarantining the regions, enforcing lockdowns in cities, containing inter-city transportation and working with local police. This is not exclusively with Pakistan only. Without any discrimination and/or distinction between totalitarian, communist, democratic or monarchial form of government, military is deployed to counter the menace domestically across the world. In Italy, transportation of coffins is the army responsibility. In Egypt, military does sanitization of entire cities. So is the case with French and Spanish armies. In some cases, army and police is playing guitar, singing and dancing in the streets for the quarantined people in their homes to entertain them in different countries of Europe. In general, all are helping local police to enforce quarantine. Security with a human face is the order of the day. Armies have also sealed borders to contain movement of COVID-19 affected people.

On the other hand, traditional security, however, has its own operates and modus operandi to deal with its targets. Their lack of direct contact with common man is making them gradually go for strict measures to maintain law and order and discipline in the society to quarantine people. As per their nature of job, they are strict and stern in their methods. In countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, the military has sought more power to impose curfew and punish violators with prolonged imprisonment. As it’s the time of crisis, in Russia and China, people are arrested for criticizing the governments for their policies to counter Coronavirus. In Pakistan’s economic capital, Karachi, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) are resorting to use force against the violators of lockdown. Extreme problems need extreme solutions. A national level emergency can’t be dealt with police only. They direly need assistance of the army and hence, we witness the role of armies in human security.

Interestingly, the pandemic has given a wave of awareness and responsibility to the bad guys too. Hizbullah, the Taliban and drug gangs of Brazil have also started public awareness campaign for the welfare of people by providing private healthcare facilities, sanitizing streets and imposing strict curfews in their regions of influence respectively.

There have been reports of army’s use of force, curbing of fundamental rights and coercive measures to restrict people’s mobility during lockdown emergency in different countries of the world. This situation arises only when there is already a gap between the army and the people. Moreover, people’s trust is prime. Trust is gained only by learning from community policing techniques and practices. It’s important to note that it’s a medical emergency and not a war-like situation. Hence, people’s security, women and children’s safety and care of the masses in general should be the objective of the LEAs. Applying non-violent means of maintaining law and order, curbing the pandemic, and containing society from any conflict must be prime targets of security forces. In different countries of the world including Pakistan, it has been witnessed that the army is working shoulder to shoulder with the police. This gives both a lot to learn from each other. They find a rare opportunity to exchange their discipline habits, order, and over and above community policing and drills with each other to promote human security.

In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, human security and direct contact of army with public must be a core part of LEAs training. Coronavirus immediately overwhelmed emergency services at local level. Disaster may happen in any shape be it floods, earthquake or a pandemic. At such mass level catastrophes, military is immediately called for humanitarian and administration relief. Now the question is, are defense forces ready to cope with the situation as per part of their training? In the last two decades, it has been proved that the disasters are dealt by the LEAs in the first place. However, such responsibilities & assistance to civilian administration are secondary in their training. This is the high time that their role during any natural calamity must be made an essential part of their training and education on priority. This further links human security as an important ingredient of national security. One of its manifestations in Pakistan is the formation of National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC). At the top level, civil-military leadership is on the same page to counter the effects of virus at NCOC forum.

In developing countries like Pakistan, where military-rule has been frequent, this may be sound alarming and frightening call. However, we need to accept that we are living in a democratic world. Rise of military regime in a country is not that easy now. Military may play a political role in a country’s governance and politics through other means indirectly. But it can’t take over. Direct military rule is history now. World is not welcoming to such trends. The global as well as domestic politics is not conducive to a marshal rule.

On the other hand, invention of smart weapons has discouraged the trend of full-scale war. Peace is prime and conflict is so discouraging that the army-men are mostly busy in peace activities. Incorporation of humanitarian relief, human security and dealing with civilians as part of their curricula will further polish soldiers’ services to the country, armed forces, peace and security of the common man directly..

The author is the Director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Peshawar. Twitter: @SHussainShaheed