By: Mohmad Maqbool Waggy
As the pandemic COVID -19 has affected the developed nations by
devastating their public health care and economic well being and bowed them to their knees,
what will happen to developing and fragile states when this Virus has now started to move on
from wealthy countries to the countries which have been tattered by conflicts.
While the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the world to come together
and projected vision of global ceasefire to fight a new war against the COVID-19 unanimously.
But a deep look into the conflict torn states gives a cynical view about peace and stability.
Many nation states have exploited the pandemic COVID-19 circumstances as an opportunity to
advance their already existing agendas in these conflict torn areas with more passion and
dynamism. In Syria, the Bashar al- Assad’s regime is using pandemic to push the United States
and Europe to lift sanctions against Syria, paving way for the potential reconstruction funding
and normalization of regime. Meanwhile, the United States is more committed to severe sanction
implementations and variants of ‘maximum pressure’ efforts against the particular regime.
Similarly, US sanctions on Iran have hollowed its health care system and what COVID-19 did in
Iran was just further to intensify the crisis in times of intensifying crises. Israel is following the
same trajectory by medically annexing West Bank from Palestine Authority and moving away
from two-state solution. This amounts to “war by other means”.
Kashmir had been the boiling pot of South Asian politics. What effects, if any, might the virus
have on the politics of Kashmir and India- Pakistan relations? It is far too early to make any
confident predictions, but there is little reason to expect South Asia’s growing public health
crisis to substantially change the dynamics of conflict in the region. Insurgency in Kashmir is
persisting in Kashmir since 1980’s and is still keeping on though comparatively low. India and
Pakistan also clash along the Line of Control. Mass protests have erupted in past but the
maintenance of social distance as a need to fight COVID-19 makes such gatherings unlike in the
coming months to happen. Continuous internet gag and detainment of political prisoners is a
heavy security footprint limiting the open resistance. Many non state actors are also using pandemic as an opportunity to perpetuate their own selfish
goals. This could pose major threat to the conflict resolution and human sufferings. In Yemen the
Houthi Movement is exploiting the pandemic to boost fundraising and recruitment. In
Afghanistan, the Taliban has offered ceasefires only in afflicted areas under its control, and not
in government-controlled areas under Taliban threat, which appears more like a play to
consolidate power than to provide safe spaces for public health interventions. The United States
appears prioritizing the health of its own service members in Iraq and Afghanistan by restricting
their movement to their own bases leaving adversaries such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State
with a freer field to operate.
The refugees who fled from their dwelling places are facing a major threat owing to the COVID-
- The fear among the Rohingya refugees in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh is
augmented by lack of information and separation from support networks, and intensified by the
month-long effective internet gag. The same has happened in Ethopia amid crackdowns on the
Oromo Liberation Front. In Moria camp on Lesbos, Greece, asylum seekers cannot socially
distance when 20, 000 people are squeezed into a camp meant to accommodate 3,000, and where
they must queue for hours each day for basic food supplies.
As the pandemic spreads in these fragile areas, there will be a competition between state and non
state actors to respond effectively to the pandemics and there by claim legitimacy of authority.
However at the same time this response will undermine the respond to other humanitarian and
health care need in these conflict affected areas. As a result major resources will be diverted to
COVID-19 and away from others dire human needs. The effect will be more deaths from other
diseases than COVID-19 as occurred during the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
In many conflict situations observed, fragmented governance will become stumbling block to
pandemic response. In Afghanistan, both the Taliban and the Afghan government proclaim right
to govern Afghanistan. Both are active in fighting the pandemic but the fragmented governance
arrangements have halted the effective countrywide efforts. In Syria the closure of internal
borders by the Assad regime and the opposition Syrian Interim Government supported by Turkey
pose a steeping challenge to respond effectively to COVID-19.
Economic effects such as greater poverty, debt, unemployment, dislocation, and inequality will
further pose challenge to many countries to cripple. Oil exports play a crucial role in the
economy of Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Venezuela etc. The low volume and prices could dramatically
reduce the income and thereby heightens their struggle to deliver effective pandemic response.
The support of Russia to actors in Ukraine, Libya and Syria will have serious consequences in
the scenario of economic breakdown of oil economy in the former country. The social distancing
measures will have detrimental consequences in countries with conflict where fragmented
governments are ill positioned to meet the basic requirements of citizens to stay at home.The tactics of concealment and disinformation about COVID-19 cases by some belligerents will
have devastating effects for public health and conflict management. These tactics are employed
by belligerents in countries like North Korea, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine etc. to assert their
supremacy and claim legitimacy. Cover up of the early stages of an outbreak apparently ushers in
still larger suffering for the civilian population down the road. Besides it, authorities’ efforts to
veil the virus feed toxic trends of disinformation and attacks on free press that have already
become a malicious feature of the pandemic, further undercutting citizens’ trust.
The pandemic hit just as the United States concluded lengthy negotiations with the Taliban, and
talks were expected to transition to an intra-Afghan negotiation about the future of the state.
These talks may no longer take place in person because of travel limitations, and it remains to be
seen if negotiations at a distance or under quarantine will allow enough confidence building to
tackle difficult political questions.
The virulent disease has also shut down nose-to-nose grassroots political mobilization, as well as
previous protests in Iran, Iraq, and Kashmir. In the short term, the public health emergency likely
has persuaded many protesters of the utility of staying home. Yet in the medium term, popular
grouses likely will be further worsened by the pandemic, and the lack of a valve to express
domestic pressures and discontent could make for an even more volatile situation in some
countries, bringing new cycles of instability.
Coronavirus pandemic could produce some better humanitarian opportunities by bring out the
best in people, even in somberly tattered conflict settings, just as natural disasters can reshuffle
the decks in productive ways and break cycles of violent escalation. Pungent enmies can find
common cause. International actors can find creative new ways to support political transitions
and peace processes and to deliver effective humanitarian and development assistance. As the
crisis evolves over the coming months, all parties should remain attuned for potential openings.
However reviewing states already tattered by conflicts, it seems pandemics and its containment
measures are more likely to become objects of increased exploitation and contestation, rather
than an off ramp toward durable peace.
(Author is Research Scholar Central University of