A file image of PM Imran Khan.

Time to act in unison

Wrong decisions and decisions at the wrong time have only led to the virus rampaging on and on

Majid Siddiqui May 16, 2020
There is little denying that the ruling PTI stands exposed today over its vociferous claims of turning things around in Pakistan. During its nearly two-year-long life in power so far, the Imran Khan party has terribly failed to tackle the very many problems facing the country. While its performance, pre-Covid, was nothing much to write home about, its inexperience and incompetence are laid bone-bare post-Covid.

Since the novel coronavirus crossed into Pakistan, in late February, the federal government’s response has been thickly mired in confusion. Wrong decisions and decisions at the wrong time have only led to the virus rampaging on and on, infecting more than 38,000 people and sending over 800 into eternal slumber. And then the tendency to find fault with others is something that has contaminated the political environment at a time when national harmony was the foremost need.

All this has magnified the challenge to the state’s social and economic structure, turning it even more dangerous than the virus.

This highlights the inability of the Khan’s government to devise a uniform strategy for the country to survive an unprecedented crisis. That the federation and the four federating units have their separate ways of dealing with the deadly microbe is pretty evident — and pretty appalling too. For instance, the type of lockdown had all of us hooked on to a debate that is yet inconclusive. And now to the shock of all our experts, we have softened an already soft lockdown even though the lethal virus is still in the growth phase in our country and a plateau is nowhere in sight.

Not just the PTI, the contagion has exposed others too.

The PPP administration in Sindh — that has already been a symbol of failed governance for the last thirteen years — has not been able to follow a clear path as to the containment of the virus and the provision of relief to the public.

Being the first in the country to impose a lockdown within its domain, the Sindh government had led the way — and was praised as well for its quick thinking and swift actions. But save for that initial phase, the decision-making by Sindh has remained slow and muddled. In a graver cause for concern, the steps taken to fight the mushrooming coronavirus have been limited to Karachi only.

Outside Karachi, there are only two coronavirus test centres — the Gambat Medical Institute and the Liaquat Hospital, Jamshoro. These two facilities are responsible for a sizeable population of about 40 million. The district and taluka hospitals, together with the medical colleges and universities located in the interior of the province, lack the wherewithal to step in should the situation turn serious.

So, expecting more from the PPP administration in Sindh would be tantamount to self-deception.

The coronavirus challenge has not either spared the PML-N, which boasts of being the largest political party in the country. The N-League has played no role in the crisis — not even in Punjab which is its political bastion and the country’s largest province.

Very similar to that of the PTI and the PPP, the response by the PML-N to the reigning crisis has been disappointing, to say the least. Given that the party is aware of the administrative problems in the province, as well as the needs of the districts and tehsils, it could have bolstered the government efforts in confronting the virus.

But while party leader Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz continue to take refuge in political bunkers, Shehbaz Sharif too has mostly remained indoors as a means of self-protection — well, not just from the virus!

Other leaders of the party too are only busy picking up holes in the official policy, besides lashing out at NAB over “political victimisation” and the government over sugar, flour and power scams. Such pointless criticism is not going to help Punjab or Pakistan get through this crisis.

WHO’s warning that the situation in Pakistan could worsen by mid-July must alert us all — the government, the opposition, and the public — to the serious danger that the coronavirus continues to pose. It’s time to act in unison.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2020.

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