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The new normal after Corona!

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Dr Tariq Rustam

Sit with the pain until it passes and you will be calmer for the next one. As we agonisingly navigate through the tempestuous wave of the Corona pandemic, we will need the calmness to face a world which may not be the same we have got used to.

Every big war, natural disaster or catastrophe has changed the world in significant ways. Will corona do the same?Speculative thinking goes through the ceiling. The gamut runs from the bleakest scenarios to rosy picture with promise of an even better world.

The analysts are ruminating a quantum change in the global economy. Two big changes are being contemplated. First, a revert from a multi step and multi-country production and supply chain to the old pattern of self-contained and self-sufficient domestic production, which should not suffer disruption in times of crisis. Will it happen? No, I think. It is easy to stretch our imagination in the heat of the moment, amidst the crisis, to visualise a roll back of a highly intricate and entwined system but the enormity of the problems involved will soon be evident on us as the crisis is over.

The kind of momentum the process of globalisation has attained is not likely to stop altogether; the enthusiasm for it may remain dampened for some time though. The old model may succeed to the extent of some essentials like food and medical necessaries etc but large scale transformation will remain outside the realm of purpose and possibility.

The second major transformation in the economy being speculated seems more realistic and practical. The fear of ‘in person’ will push the balance from physical to virtual and major chunk of the businesses are likely to go online. That the shift is already well in progress can be seen in the exponential growth of the Amazon and online component of Walmart. Just now, Amazon and Walmart have floated 100,000 and 150,000 jobs respectively.

The trend is likely to speed up. But corona will only be responsible to the extent of accelerating the existing trends and not for triggering the change. Similarly, the trend of working from home will get further impetus given its success during the pandemic.

Apparently, international politics can hardly expect any positive change given the cynical nature of nation state and presence of populist and authoritarian regimes at the helm from west to east. Populism will tend to pit a narrow exclusivist version of nationalism against all-inclusive globalisation stoking suspicion, distrust, fear and a petty national self-interest.

The war of words between the United States and China over who is responsible for the pandemic bears testimony to that. However, as the pandemic evolves the things may take a different turn. As situation is deteriorating with rising death toll, the tone and tenor of the rhetoric has started to mellow down.

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The US and other governments’ appeal to China for help and guidance can be taken as a straw in the wind. It is hoped that the scale of disruption and misery will make the nationalists see reason and cultivate an environment of mutual trust and cooperation, clearing the way for an all-inclusive neo-globalisation, which values humans as humans without distinction of the colour of their passport.

The pandemic does not augur well for the poor countries. The human and financial cost of the calamity will put an unbearable strain on already crumbling economies from which they may take decades to recover. A total collapse of economies in some cases may in turn lead to the collapse of the governments and vulnerable states themselves, unleashing geopolitical, ethnic, religious conflicts and civil strife for decades to come. Taliban, IS and their ilk may step in with their utopian philosophies to capture lands and power. That, God forbid, will be the last nail in the coffin of withering states. Pakistan stands on the edge.

The biggest legacy of the coronavirus pandemic will be the fear, paranoia and xenophobia, which will keep lingering for a long time to come. Interpersonal relationships will suffer as the new culture of social distancing will contaminate our behaviours and emotions like intimacy, warmness and love with a fear fueled reluctance.The cold smiles may replace the effusive hugs and online chats may supplant the intimate get-together.

Not a heartwarming thought at all! In worst cases the paranoia may turn into serious psychological disorders like schizophrenia and repeated hand washing may grow into obsessive compulsive neurosis.  An overall environment of aversion and distrust may poison the hearts and minds of men and indeed the whole social space.

Disquieting, though they may be, not all changes are bad. How we respond to them matters. Change comes bearing gifts and opportunities. It is for us to cherry-pick. We may have to change our opinions but not our principles, we may have to change the leaves but not the roots which should keep entrenched in our traditions of love and trust, care and courtesy. Let us not despair.

Changes the corona is likely to thrust upon us are not to stay here forever. We will shake hands again, we will have intimate get-togethers once more and will hug our friends and loved ones as warmly as we always did. Everything will be normal again and the new normal will be better than the old one. Cheer up!

DIG Tariq Rustam

— The writer is a senior police officer. He can be reached at rustam.reflections@gmail.com