“May you live in interesting times”, a phrase often attributed to an ancient Chinese curse, feels strangely apt within the global environment we currently find ourselves hostage to. South Asia in particular finds itself at a curious juncture.

After the coronavirus hit Pakistan in February, like most people, who were getting their news from epidemiologists such as Dr Anthony Fauci in the West and following statistical models from institutions like Imperial College, I expected a complete catastrophe. If the mighty USA, with cities like New York; that alone had a health budget an order of magnitude greater than Pakistan’s was brought to its knees, what chance did we have, or so the conventional wisdom went.

And yet, mercifully, the cataclysm did not come; whether it was Imran Khan’s patented “Smart Lockdowns” (phased, hotspot control), diversity of genetics, prevalence of vaccinations, the hot and humid weather or divine intervention (everyone has their own reasoning); coronavirus had a much smaller impact than anticipated in the most optimistic of projections, but really no one has a clue as to why.

It is September; in Pakistan, life has returned to normal, more or less. As we await the “second wave”, Pakistan is upbeat, the stock market has become the best performer in Asia, Real Estate (and its associated industries) is witnessing a vibrant revival under Prime Minister Imran Khan’s generous construction package, interest rates are down, consumer spending is returning to normal and large infrastructure investments are incoming as CPEC Phase II is readying to take off. Imran Khan and his team should get the political credit they deserve, mocked for placing livelihoods over lives, in the end they saved both; he was right and the intelligentsia was wrong. For the sceptics, let’s call it a miracle and leave it at that.

Geographically, linguistically, culturally and historically, India has always served as a mirror for Pakistan. Being successor states to the British Raj, our institutions and people are similar enough that one would assume a similar fate awaits on the other side of the border. However, when viewed from Pakistan, what is happening in India right now is less akin to observing a mirror and more like staring into the Abyss.

Last week, after becoming the second most coronavirus infected country, India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation dropped a bombshell, The Indian GDP had contracted by an enormous 24 percent in the formal sector during the first financial quarter of 2020; according to economist Pranab Sen the actual contraction could be as worse as 32 percent. Additionally, private consumption had fallen by 27 percent with unemployment rising to 23 percent; the official figures far outpaced the most pessimistic of expectations and has caused alarm across the country as well as with foreign investors abroad.

Indian economic growth has been in steady decline since 2016. That year, PM Modi’s ill thought out and poorly executed signature policy of ‘Demonetisation’ (also jeeringly termed “An Act of God” by West Bengal Finance Minister, Amit Mitra) decimated the informal sector, taking the air out of the economy’s tires.

India had been treading on politically perilous ground. The populist, macho-chauvinist Hindutva ideology of the BJP has been eating at the very foundations of the Indian national idea (as defined by prominent politician Yagendra Yadev: democracy, diversity, development) and reforging it in its own world view.

In this tinderbox, entered the coronavirus pandemic; on a recent TV programme former Chief Economist at the World Bank Kaushik Basu observed that the impact on an economy was directly related to the severity of the lockdown it endured.

More lasting than the health tragedy is the havoc COVID-19 is playing on India’s economy; after the initial lockdown, rather than taking charge and formulating a unified national response as observed in Pakistan, India’s Central Government threw the responsibility upon the shoulders of the constituent States of the Indian Union, which in turn started implementing sporadic, disjointed and haphazard lockdowns (3 days a week or weekends), proving neither to slow the virus nor benefit the economy the states have burnt a hole in their coffers, and are now unsuccessfully demanding their share of the much touted Goods and Services Tax (GST) from the Centre (which holds the funds in trust), leading to much internal friction.

It will take at least 3 years for the economy to recover and Modi’s promise of a $5 trillion economy by 2024 is dead. Modi’s massive $250 billion stimulus package dubbed ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) which experts believe has to be executed perfectly to have anything close to the desired effect is yet to bear fruit. Tragically, the poorest and most vulnerable have likely exhausted all savings on survival and even when income does pick up, it will go towards replenishing savings or debt finance and hence will not contribute to demand.

Surely, Modi will pay a political price for all this? Well not likely, according to a Morning Consult poll as of May 19th his approval rating was 82 percent (a rating any self-respecting politician would trade 2 limbs and a kidney for). The problem for India is that Modi is no mere political leader but has transcended into a spiritual icon. He has become the symbol of a new India, the embodiment and expression of a revitalised Hindu identity and newfound hyper-nationalist pride of the majority.

Tragic as all this is, amongst all the chaos perhaps lies an opportunity; a humbled and overwhelmed India might be willing to seek a working relationship with Pakistan in order to lessen the immense pressure it is feeling at this moment. Some form of economic, diplomatic and trade normalisation would benefit the only thing that should matter for both: the lives and livelihoods of the people of the subcontinent.