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Covid-19 And Pakistan’s Crisis Of Leadership

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Pakistan’s debut cases of Coronavirus struck in February when pilgrims from Iran returned via the Taftan border. So, the country had ample time to brace-up and begin to deal with the pandemic. The leadership in Islamabad claims that the government was already anxious about the global epidemic and started holding meetings on conceivable arrangements. The government merits the due credit for taking a position of not recalling the Pakistani students from China. Although, many, including parents, were against such a policy, understandably.

In Iran, China, and other parts of the world – Coronavirus had already blown up and the number of deaths had already surged. If Pakistan’s official narrative is accepted for a second, then there is a huge question mark on the subsequent competence of the federal government over border management and the airports. According to the Constitution of Pakistan, border and airport management is a Federal subject.

Ostensibly, the government was somewhat concerned for the poor, keeping the lockdown option at arm’s length. Its attitude caused another controversy between Sindh and the Federal government. The Sindh government’s tendency was towards the lockdown, whereas the federal government’s preference was towards herd immunity – although not openly confessed.

The shallowness was evident when the government announced a few significant decisions while the pandemic was breaking out forcefully on the ground. With a chunk of people reporting COVID-19 positive and deaths each day, the testing capacity rose at a turtle’s speed. So far, Pakistan has only managed to hold 12,000 tests per day, with Sindh conducting the most per capita tests across Pakistan.

In the meantime, when the entire world was dealing with curbing the COVID-19 crisis, our government was playing up other matters.

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The report on the Sugar and What Mafia was allegedly leaked from the PM secretariat, calling it a shot of PSPM Azam Khan against a powerful ally of PM Khan, Jahangir Khan Tareen (JKT). While everybody wants the Sugar and Wheat mafias to be held accountable, it wasn’t the apt time when the leadership needs national unity. Ultimately, the fate of the report is discernable to the nation that people tangled in sugar hoarding and subsidy are rewarded with a better ministry. So, one is tempted to see it as a deviating tactic from the pandemic.

Similarly, the government also probed the IPP reports to figure out the subsidy that owners have extracted from the government – especially in view of the circular debt in the incumbent regime at a record high of Rs 1,720 billion. According to Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid, close to powerful quarters, “no conclusion” would come out of the IPP report. So, the impression is received that this mafia is strong enough due to sovereign guarantees signed with the government of Pakistan. The government has to kneel. Thus, the question arises as to what the purpose of initiating a toothless report in the middle of the pandemic crisis was?

A year back, the PTI government under PM Khan pledged to hold all the tax evaders accountable. The nation saw from top to bottom a government galvanizing support against the non-taxpayers. In that framework, Shabber Zaidi, a competent officer from a private firm, sought for his services to rectify the FBR structure. Not even a year passed: and we neither see Shabber Zaidi onboard as FBR Chairman nor tax-collection a problem of the day. The reference is to the construction policy, announced in the middle of the crisis. It is hard to fathom the need to introduce a construction policy at this juncture. With the introduction of a fresh construction policy, anyone who invests in the industry will not be grilled over their source of income. So, PM Khan’s pledge to crack down against tax-evaders remains in the air. Above all, the construction sector provides returns in the medium-to-long term while the economic stress from the pandemic requires the government to take measures in the short-term to save businesses from recession.

Lately, we heard that the ruling party wants to tweak in the 18th amendment. Reportedly the government and opposition are holding a meeting informally over possible variations in the 18th amendment. Especially the NFC award is the concern for the Federal government. After the 18th amendment, the major pie of 57.5% is distributed amidst the provinces, and remaining 42.5% lies with the Federal government. Without going in-depth about what is right or wrong, the government of the day doesn’t have a focus on COVID-19.

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Now that the lockdown is eased, we can only pray that the pandemic outbreak doesn’t hit Pakistan the way it did the US, Europe, China and Iran. I have never found PM Khan showing apprehension over the death rate doubling after every ten days. All we see is a professed concern for “the poor”.

If the poor segments of the population are truly a worry for the PTI-led government, then easing the lockdown puts them at greater risk because it is not the rich who will come out for earning. It is the poor who leave home to earn a living.

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