Instead of putting up a joint fight against the coronavirus, our political leadership is fighting against each other. While the PPP that rules Sindh province insists on a strict, curfew-like lockdown to contain the spread of the virus and is trying to go about it as well, the PTI that leads the Centre as well as the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is more concerned about the sinking economy of the country and a large number of daily wage earners and labourers who have lost their jobs due to strict restrictions on movement. Thus the PTI, and more specifically Prime Minister Imran Khan, advocates a soft or a smart lockdown, which primarily means resumption of business activities across the country under certain SOPs. The two sides are more interested in scoring political points rather than seriously listening to each other and accommodating each other’s viewpoint to finally come up with a uniform national strategy to deal with the mushrooming virus.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has thus had to intervene. The top court has taken notice of the lack of cooperation between the federal government and the provinces, and observed that “matters cannot be run by ego and stubbornness”. The court has raised questions on the handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, like: Under what law can Sindh keep businesses closed and block the Centre’s sources of revenue — and that too without prior concurrence of the president or the federal government? Why have the shops remained shuttered even though the government has allowed prayer congregations to resume in mosques? The two sides also differed, though not mentioned by the Supreme Court, on allowing congregational prayers in mosques. While the PPP-run Sindh province maintains a ban on congregational prayers, including Taraweeh, the same can be held in Punjab and K-P which are run by the PTI.
All this only points towards the inability of the leadership to frame a uniform national policy to contain the thriving virus — whether because of their ineligibility or the political acrimony between the federation and one of its federating units. Just one more week for the leadership to bury the hatchet, otherwise the apex court will come up with an interim order.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2020.
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