The year 2021 was nothing short of revolutionary and historical in multiple facets. In various areas of life, events took place that have a lasting effect on the fate of humanity and the planet for decades. 2021 was a year that was reminiscent of the human condition; a convoluted amalgam of pessimism with optimism, hope with fear, death and life, darkness and light. The major narrative that comes out sends a message for future generations, that even when there is injustice, suffering and challenges in the world and in our home country, there are people who are bearers of light, there are professions that are seeking the cure, and with the right mind set, it is within grasp. Looking back, 2021 showed up the new avenues of improvement and success and what lies beneath if we fail.
On an International level, the year started with two major events. The height of the covid-19 pandemic and the U.S presidential election. Failure during the pandemic, record level deaths in the U.S contributed towards the downfall of the Trump administration. On the finalization of results, Trump supporters stormed the White house and the whole world saw, the strongest democracy of the West, reduced to ashes at the hands of hooligans and white-supremacist thugs. It was an event that will haunt the U.S and the Republicans for decades. All this while the health systems in U.S, Europe and the U.K failed miserably. Deaths mounted in the thousands and infection rates overwhelmed the hospitals. All this was happening amid news of vaccinations being introduced, trying to achieve maximum adult populations before they reached ICUs. 2021 was a race against time across the world.
On the other hand, poorer countries were able to cope with the pandemic congruent to their discipline. Loss of control in public gatherings and not following covid social guidelines lead to a catastrophe in India. Around April, India and Delhi in particular lead to a number of deaths that were unprecedented. Oxygen cylinders went short. Hospitals were overrun. Funeral pyres filled the sky with smoke across many Indian cities. It was a scene of horror and soul searching, when even Pakistan offered help, amid the worst pandemic scenarios in any country. Similar scenes were seen in France, Italy, Mexico, Spain and African countries. Slowly, the vaccines took hold and the number of deaths dwindled. On the eve of new year, one banner in Delhi read “ajeeb saal tha, kissi ke sapne ley gaya, kissi ke apnay ley gaya”(it was a strange year, it took away dreams from some and took loved ones from some).
Another event that shocked the world was the exit of the U.S Forces from Afghanistan and the sweeping force of the Taliban take over. After 20 years of war, the U.S, NATO and its allies had replaced the Taliban with a stronger Taliban. According to experts, this was the end of U.S occupation across seas. The lesson was learned. The embarrassment to the Western World who took active war in the Afghan invasion became absolute in 2021. Pakistan took a solid stance. The Indian efforts to bolster its ties to Karzai and Ashraf Ghani were thwarted. The puppet Government proved to be an actual delusion of the Pentagon. Later, American Generals had to justify and cut out a sorry figure in explaining the failure and miscalculated exit from Kabul. It was not like Saigon in Vietnam, it was much worse. As the whole world saw, there were people falling from an American Jet as it took off from Kabul. A memory that haunts all U.S allies in the effort of so called “War on terror”. All the equipment supplied by Western allies and the people who supported the U.S forces, left at the mercy of the Taliban. Pakistan took a proactive role and engaged the Taliban and new year eve has seen improvement in ties between Pakistan on this front.
On the side of Asia, China made strides during 2021. Beijing handled the pandemic with mechanical efficiency. It was the first country to open lockdowns and initiate commercial activity. European countries and particularly the U.S blamed China for hiding the origins of the pandemic in the Wuhan area, but China was not hindered. Economic activity began and 2021 saw the resurgence of trade. In the few months’ time, supply lines that had been suspended in 2020 were reinvigorated. Silicon and metal raw materials went short giving rise to shortages and souring prices. Fuel and Natural gas supply chains were disrupted. In the peak time, Petrol stations ran dry in cities like London. Prices came back and then inflated beyond reasonable market rates. Emergency meetings of OPEC countries resolved the matter by increasing supply to stabilize markets. The World came to know that sustainability through alternate clean energy sources are still a far cry. But China made all the right choices. It advanced its investment schemes in Asia and Africa. It strengthened the position on Taiwan and Hong Kong. Non-state actors working against China were tackled in earnest and the position of China on International affairs became loud and clear in the United Nations. Near the end of 2021, the Chinese representative to the United Nations demanded action against the United States of America for war crimes it had committed in Afghanistan and Iraq. A change of perspective no doubt.
Another milestone of 2021 was the COP26 Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow. A 4000 page report signed and stamped by top scientists of the World demanded urgent action and a red alert for humanity and all Governments across the World. COP26 signifies the time when science told humanity, that devastating effects of Climate Change are already set in motion, and that not dealing with them will result in massive damage. The Conference was dominated by leadership from China and Russia. The Americans once again took the back seat and although the scientific element was vivid and conclusive, the political will was missing. The realization is available but the action is not there. The future will stand testimony to the fact that every one knew what was happening, just did not do anything about it.
In Pakistan, there was a mix of good and bad events. Imran khan inherited a dismal situation of the economy and tried his best to steer Pakistan out of bankruptcy. His notable achievements include reforms in taxation and encouraging a business-friendly environment. Imran khan made strenuous efforts in securing deferred oil payments from Saudis and investments from overseas Pakistanis. Remittances have been at an all-time high. All this was done despite inheriting a deeply troubled state of the economy from previous regimes. The country was able to avert a disaster due to sound policies of the Imran khan and the NCOC in view of the pandemic. Avoiding complete lockdowns and imposing targeted smart lockdowns saved a multitude of jobs and livelihoods. Even in the highest point of the pandemic, hospitals kept functioning and oxygen supplies along with vaccines were available. Pakistan a debt of gratitude to China was the marvelous assistance that came from Beijing. In the same spirit, Pakistan kept progressing on its significant projects under CPEC and OBOR. The civil-military co-ordination lead to many dividends for the national economy. However, there were many setbacks owing to national and international factors and the economy suffered like never before. Commodity, utilities and the worth of the Rupee dropped considerably and the worst is feared in the future. IMF program dominated the financial side of the PTI Government and tax burden on the common man is increasing by every passing day. There were some accomplishments in terms of the national health card scheme, the legislation for women and overhauling of the education structure in the country, but the vision of “Naya Pakistan”, has become a humorous gig. The last year of PTI Government did not bring the change it promised and its supporters remained at a loss for justification. 2021 was a year that concluded the performance of the Government and highlighted the shortcomings of the society at large. 2022 is year, which is, in a way a last chance to fix that which is clearly broken and perhaps in need of the Old Pakistan instead of the new.
[box type=”note” align=”” class=”” width=””]The Writer is Chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation[/box]