Covid-19 pandemic and regional security

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Narayan Adhikari

  • Read Time 3 min.

Like 2020, 2021 will probably pass amid the pandemic. The global health crisis is plaguing us. Unimaginable human losses are taking place in many countries. At the same time, Covid-19 could prove to be a world-changing pandemic with potentially profound impacts on the national and international security environment.

If we look at the world through security perspective the grey zone conflict has been raised. Maritime encounters at sea and freedom of navigation issues are subject of intense debate in the international arena. New security challenges, irregular warfare, and global climate change, digital threats, global economic disruptions, violent extremism could pose new threats to the next century.

Nepal and geopolitics

Covid-19 has ravaged South Asia, particularly Nepal and India. People are pleading for help as the country is reeling under vaccine shortage. In many places hospitals are running out of beds and oxygen. The country is in lockdown. Our health workers and security agencies are working restlessly in this pandemic. People are losing lives every day. In this health crisis, regional solidarity and cooperation are needed more than ever before. But this has not happened, triggering regional security challenges along with the health crisis.

South Asia—which stretches from Mount Everest to the Indian Ocean to Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal—lies on an exceptionally strategically important location. Geopolitical tensions have impacted South Asia, which has a lot of minerals and riches. Indian Ocean is rich in Oil and minerals, which is one of the maritime routes of the global economy. Today, the freedom of navigation is becoming a global issue, leading to the possibility of future maritime encounters, which will be costly for the whole world. For example, China has claimed 90 percent of the South China Sea, and this claim is based on the U-shaped nine-dash line etched on the map in the 1940s by a Chinese geographer. On the other hand, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed December 10, 1982, has been described as a “constitution for the oceans.” These two are mutually contradictory, indicating possibility of conflict.

In this context, South Asia is emerging as a major hub for the polarization of world powers. The escalating strategic war in South Asia has been gradually forcing the region towards instability. Regional alliances and ‘Quad policy’ formation are rapidly increasing everywhere. The recent ‘Himalayan Quad’ meeting between Nepal, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan has introduced ‘comprehensive’ security agreements and infrastructure-oriented aid to the Himalayan region.

We need to be sensitive and concerned about the security of the Himalayan region because of the growing instability around the world. The Himalayan region is one of the biodiversity hotspots. The mountainous region of South Asia is a mine of Ayurvedic medicine, apart from being a source of civilization. The large amounts of minerals are considered to be stored in the mountainous region. We should not spoil the natural beauty of the region in the name of modern development. While building roads, railways, and other big projects along this region we also need to ensure that ecology does not suffer much.

Covid-19 could prove to be a world-changing pandemic with potentially profound impacts on national and international security environment.

Climate change has impacted the Himalayan zone in much larger scale than we may have imagined. Massive avalanches, melting glaciers, hydro dams outburst, and increasing temperatures are results of climate change. The weather of the Hindu Kush Himalayan range is rapidly changing threatening millions of lives in the future.

If we do not act to preserve our mountains today, we are going to suffer tomorrow. This is a wake-up call for us all. Future will see a massive increases of environmental refugees.

Threat on Asia

As the situations are unfolding this way, regional cooperation and collaboration has been limited to a slogan in South Asia. Regional organizations like SAARC are completely inactive. When regional organizations become inactive, we fail to resolve differences by putting regional common issues in an open forum.

Indo-Pacific Strategy, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), QUAD Group, and Himalayan Quad have attracted the attention of the students for research and studies. Common people of South Asia have no clue what are the pros and cons of these projects, which seem to be countervailing projects for each other.

Due to unstable governance, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are facing multi-dimensional issues including national security threats. Pakistan and India have not been able to resolve their issues. Border and water disputes which started in 1947 are still there. Due to the border dispute between Nepal and India, unique relations and many bilateral cooperation projects have been overshadowed.

Since 1970, India and Pakistan have also engaged in an unhealthy technological nuclear arms race. Trans-border terrorism, terrorism, and transnational crime, cyber espionage are an enormous threat in this region. Apart from security threats the economic gains, regional cooperation is needed for the maintenance of peace and security in this region.

South Asia at the moment is under the throes of Covid-19 pandemic. Thus saving lives should be the first priority of the countries in the region now. But when we emerge out of it, we must consider this aspect of security with equal seriousness.

Narayan Adhikari is a researcher on national security and terrorism.

Twitter: @BraboAlfa