COVID-19: An Opportunity for Indo-Afghan Cultural Relationship?

Nazir Ahmad Yosufi
December 13th, 2020

 

Image Courtesy: Trans Asia News Service

The progress of human civilisation and its reliance on uncharted development of science and technology which interferes with biodiversity may entail unwanted consequences. Otherwise, one of the species with a developed brain has become a curse to trillions of other species as well as to the non-living things through development of weapons, chemical bombs, nuclear bombs, for wars, conflicts, terrorism. Economic growth at the cost of enormous environmental degradation imposed poverty and injustice at best is unsustainable.

  The COVID-19 pandemic is turning out to be a curse to humanity itself and unprecedented experience in human history. It has infected over 200 countries and territories in a short span of time. It was hard for humans to believe that a virus could cause such misery in the world. A world which took pride in its science and technology has been brought to its knees. It has forced both the developed and developing countries to shut down their economic, political, social and cultural activities and also to close international borders in order to contain the virus. However, despite the harsh social distancing measures the number of COVID-19 infected people still continue to increase at an alarming rate all over the world. Currently, over 12 million people are infected, and around 550,000 people have died, and it is multiplying every day. Thus, COVID-19 pandemic poses a new challenge to altogether redefined the concept of security, wherein minimising the environment cost of economic development needs to be relocated as a paramount theme which is intertwined with the prospect of continuity of human civilisation.

The closure of international borders has stopped the free movement of people, goods and services and most of the economies have been forced to become inward-looking which at best is a short-term solution unsustainable in the long run. The mammoth task of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic hinges on due recognition of the global web of global interdependencies and calls for an urgent need to augment the collaborative efforts across medical, technological, economic, environmental and various other social and cultural fields. This means ensuring survival and protection of humans from prospective similar pandemics also calls for a new conception of global citizenship irrespective of geography, ethnicity, religion or per se disparities in the level of economic development, and the subsequent inequality that determines access to healthcare. In such a scenario, it must be noted that India has so far provided support to more than 123 countries in the world with regard to fighting this unprecedented pandemic.

Apparently, the COVID-19 is an extension of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) identified in the early 2000s, which has remained non-responsive to all the available vaccines. Likewise, the search for an effective vaccine against the COVID-19 despite the efforts made by numerous scientists across the world, a vaccine, that could arrest the mutating nature of this virus is yet to be developed for a full proof certainty.

In short, in a foreseeable scenario, at least for the developing countries combating the pandemic is going to be a long-drawn affair. Therefore, it is important to reckon that there is a need to sublimate energy and resources in finding and utilising new ways for continuing the political, economic, particularly cultural and social relations between the countries which sustain the much-needed people-to-people contacts. 

Major COVID-19 Inroads

Firstly, the pandemic has created a global healthcare crisis, millions of people have been infected, and hundreds of thousands have died. The mortality rate though still low, has remained significant given the alarming rate increase in the infection rate all over the world. 

Secondly, it has exposed the limitations current model of economic development based on the wanton destruction of the environment. The pandemic has pushed the world economy towards an unforeseen crisis as most of the major economies have to deal with an unprecedented recession. As a result, many people continue to lose their jobs and have been forced to deal with reduced income. Thus, the unemployment rate has hit an all-time low in most of the countries.   

Thirdly, further, though yet to be systematically studied, the potential negative psychological outcome of the pandemic looms as a danger that could disturb social harmony, whereas there has been a marked increase in the level of domestic violence across the globe. 

Major Discernible Prospects 

COVID-19 pandemic, like any other challenge, could have a divisive impact and at the same time could also be seen as an opportunity to develop new means of cooperation to stop impending crises. Given this, the deadly pandemic has opened up the following possibilities.

Firstly, though short term gain which could be easily nullified, the level of pollution (CO2 emission, noise pollution and water pollution) reduced to over 60% in many countries.

Secondly, it has provided ample time to people to re-visit, re-think, and re-evaluate their relationship with nature, food, health, hygiene, et cetera. Nonetheless, the pandemic has unbolted our consciousness and created a room to think about what kind of world we want after the pandemic.

Thirdly, it has also taught a lesson to the developed and developing countries that security not only means developing weapons but also healthcare and conservation of the natural environment as a vital task in the conception of human security.

Regarding improving the Indo-Afghan cultural relationship during and post COVID-19 pandemic

 Today with the advancement made in the field of communication technology, it has become easier to connect people of different cultures. The followings are the ways to boost the people-to-people contacts during and post-pandemic.

First of all, India-Afghanistan should focus more on connecting their schools, universities, institutions. For instance, initially connecting a few top Afghan schools with the Indian schools for essay, painting, debate, singing competitions would create a room for cultural exchanges to take place. Similarly, connecting universities and other institutions would immensely promote cultural understanding as well as further expand the relationship between the two friendly countries. 

Secondly, in order to ward-off the divisive trends, connecting people through learning each other languages, culture, tradition and cuisine, has become even more vital in sustaining the intercultural dialogue. Therefore, it is essential to showcase the Indo-Afghan similarities that exist in different spheres such as linguistic, poetry, Sufism, traditional dresses, cuisines, folk music and dance, personalities, et cetera. For instance, connecting the recently established Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Research Centre and museum in Jalalabad with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan NGOs and organisations in India. 

Thirdly, Afghanistan needs to learn from India by making the Indian knowledge and resources available to the Afghans at the schools, universities and other places. For instance, India has digitalised all its libraries and museums which can easily be made available to Afghans in different parts of the country. Likewise, the Afghan government can digitize its museums and libraries and make them available to Indian students, researchers and professors.  

Fourthly, it is also possible to make a platform for Afghan cinema in connection with Bollywood. The first Indian movie “Dharmatma” shot in 1975, Khuda Gawah in 1992 and the last one “Kabul Express” in 2006 in Afghanistan. In fact, many Bollywood actors have an ancestral connection with Afghanistan. One of the amazing Bollywood actor “Kader Khan” who passed away recently was from Kandahar who came to India in his childhood. 

Fifthly, it is possible to organise virtual trade fairs, exhibitions of painting, women handicrafts, et cetera through available technologies and at the same time selling through online means. In fact, the trade between Afghanistan and India marked a 21 per cent increase in 2019-20 as compared to 2018-19. 

Finally, in such times, Ayurveda, Yoga, et cetera, which are of immense value for living a healthy life can be vital aspects in further deepening cultural relationship between Afghanistan and India. 

Conclusion

In Persian there is a saying, “sometimes a harsh thing happens for a larger good”. Although COVID-19 is a global health crisis, its potential in ushering new opportunities cannot be underestimated. However, it is only a fragment of the impending major man-made crises that are still to unfold. For instance, perpetual threat of nuclear war. More importantly, the looming global environmental crisis which may not disrupt life to the extent the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the short term, but unchecked environmental degradation will disrupt life to the point of no return, which might eventually pose a threat to the survival of all species.

Therefore, the need for more collaborative efforts among people and countries to come together and make the world a better place has never been so urgent. Failure to do so would compromise the prospects of generations of people and trillions of other species to lead a safe and secure life. 

As Saadi Shirazi in his poem said, 

“Human beings are members of a whole,

In creation of one essence and soul.

If one member is afflicted with pain,

Other members uneasy will remain.

If you have no sympathy for human pain,

The name of human you cannot retain.”

Thus, the fragmented world is not in favour of any individual or country. The human-made challenges need innovative human collaboration and teamwork, where every individual and country need to work hard to restore the health of mother nature. 

** The author is a PhD candidate at the Centre for European Studie (CES), School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)**

 

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