Coronavirus spread in POK poses direct threat to Kashmir

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Indian soldiers at the Line of Control (LOC). (Photo: PTI/ Representational image))
Indian soldiers at the Line of Control (LOC). (Photo: PTI/ Representational image))

Coronavirus is a global pandemic, and COVID-19–the disease caused due to this novel virus, causes respiratory problems. There is no prescribed treatment or vaccine for this disease. This virus originated from China and spread to 180 countries across world; it has been declared a “Pandemic” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The severity of this pandemic can be gauged from the fact that as on date, nearly 1,699,631 people have tested positive while 102,734 have succumbed due to this fatal disease. Most affected countries are Spain, Italy, China, Iran and the United States of America where death toll is very high.

India also faces the wrath of this novel Coronavirus which till now has claimed 249 lives, and the number of people testing positive is surging with every passing day. The newly created Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh too have recorded more than 106 positive cases and recorded two fatalities.

Pakistan is also in the throes of Coronavirus infection which is spreading at a very fast pace over there. China is Pakistan’s “all weather friend” and has strong diplomatic and business relations with it. CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is the big joint venture between the two in which thousands of Chinese employees are working inside Pakistan. These Chinese technicians and labourers make frequent trips to their country for meeting their families or for some job-related work. Since China has been one of the most severely hit countries by this novel Coronavirus, it’s but natural that the massive workforce working on CPEC projects would have brought along this virus while returning from mainland China. Since Pakistan did not go in for a ‘lockdown’ option like India, there is just no possibility that locals in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) could have saved themselves from contracting the Coronavirus.

Pakistan Army has set up quarantine camps in POK and Gilgit-Baltistan but it has done so only after Coronavirus pandemic has spread all over. To make matters worse, Pakistan Army have shifted positive cases of Coronavirus infection to POK due to which this pandemic is likely to go out of control. The locals have expressed their unhappiness by coming out on the streets and protesting. In any case, since the idea of shifting positive Coronavirus cases into POK is that of the Pakistan Army and not the Imran Khan government, no amount of objection will make the army reverse its decision!

There are very reliable reports that Pakistan Army has already starting moving positive cases of Coronavirus into POK and due to a large number of patients and limited facilities, the overall situation there is not very good. This becomes a matter of very serious concern for the people of Kashmir because the Coronavirus will also infect militants staying in launch pads situated inside the POK and when they infiltrate across the LoC and enter Kashmir, they will bring this virus into the valley with them.

Thus, while on the one hand Imran Khan is expressing concern about Coronavirus spreading in Kashmir and even asking UN and global community to intervene, the Pakistan Army is hell-bent on sending Coronavirus infected militants into Kashmir and further aggravating the problems here!

The fear of Coronavirus infection reaching us from across the LoC isn’t hypothetical, it’s real. Just days ago, the Indian Army thwarted an infiltration bid by killing five militants on the LoC in the Kupwara sector of Kashmir. Such men are likely to be active carriers of the virus that remains dormant in healthy people but is prevalent all the same.

What makes infection being spread by militants even more worrisome is that in order to avoid being identified by security forces, militants will not go to hospitals for check-ups and if they get infected, they cannot be kept in isolation and under medical supervision. Thus, even if one militant gets Coronavirus, he will not only infect his comrades but also the people he comes in contact with and this transmission of the virus will continue till he is alive.

US will soon begin the process to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and the pulling out of soldiers will have direct implications in the Kashmir Valley since militants will feel emboldened to cross over on to the eastern border. This is worrisome for both for government of India as well as for the people of Kashmir.

Luckily, the Indian army is seized with this problem and has enhanced vigil along the LoC so that infiltrators are not able to infiltrate and enter Kashmir, but the danger persists. The Indian Army has also launched a multi-pronged campaign to reach out to people in remote, rural and urban areas of Jammu and Kashmir and educate and assist them in the fight against Coronavirus. As part of the campaign titled “Jointly we will put an end to Corona,” distribution of pamphlets, masks, sanitizers and also ration is being done besides installation of hand wash facilities. Indian Army’s gesture was very well received and appreciated by the local populace.

The world is at receiving end due to this biggest challenge of the century as posed due to COVID-19. Ultimately, human spirit will prevail and things will get back to normal. When that happens, it is the manner in which people helped each other that will be remembered. India is putting up a valiant fight, which has resulted in the lowest number of deaths in this highly populous country. This spirit being exhibited in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh by the people that emulates the spirit of India. Under these testing circumstances a well conceived political outreach and empowerment of the civil society aided and abetted by New Delhi is necessary.

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