It seems the government itself is as confused as the nation is. Coronavirus is exposing its inefficiency and this can only worsen the already precarious situation, writes Ahmed Naveed.
As I write this article the official tally of confirmed COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases stands at 1775 in Pakistan. More than 11,000 people have lost their lives in Italy and 159,184 have been infected in the United States so far. The virus that originated in China has spread rapidly across the globe wreaking havoc everywhere. What we are witnessing today is something that was never imagined before. Health systems are failing, economies are diving into recession, bodies are being piled up at morgues and billions of people have been confined in their homes in a state of horror and uncertainty. While one hopes and prays for this global catastrophe to end soon, one also cannot ignore the deep political and social fissures that it has exposed in Pakistan.
I could write much about the poor state of the health system in Pakistan but I will not, out of respect for the doctors and other health workers who are risking their lives every day to help us all. Had health been our priority since independence, who knows what wonders it might have done. An effective health system in Pakistan may not have prevented the outbreak but at least it could have offered our health workers better conditions to work in.
“Mr. Prime Minister, you said that there will be no nationwide lockdown. The very next day, DG ISPR, in a media briefing, mentioned that there will be a lockdown. Whom should we listen to? Who is leading us?” asked a journalist in a recent press conference addressed by the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister had a very vague answer to this immensely important question. Another vague answer was thrown at a lady journalist who asked about the government’s strategy vis-à-vis closure of mosques.
Why is there so much uncertainty? Why are there no clear cut answers by the federal government? Which direction are we headed in? In these difficult times the nation is looking up to the leadership for answers and directions; however, it seems the government itself is as confused as the nation is. Coronavirus is exposing the inefficiencies of the government and this can only worsen the already dangerous situation.
Furthermore, coronavirus has exposed that egos of leaders will not dwindle even in times of crisis. The Prime Minister is not ready to talk to the opposition. He believes it to be an insult to a man of his stature to talk to the opposition even if it is necessary to work out a national strategy. When Nasim Zehra requested the Prime Minister to set aside his political differences for the benefit of the nation, the Prime Minister gave the same old speech on corruption and economic mafia.
Moreover, Prime Minister mentioned that he is talking to health officials and economic pundits from all across the globe to get an understanding that will help him make better decisions. It is mind-boggling that the Prime Minister will talk to people from other countries but not with the opposition leaders who have been elected by people and who have a say in their constituencies. Taking them into confidence might be of immense significance if the opposition leaders personally enforce and look-over the government’s strategies (if there are any) in their constituencies.
This virus has also made it clear that the government has no idea whatsoever how to deal with the religious element even in times of crisis. It was only after pleading with numerous clerics that the decision was taken to close the mosques for congregational prayers. In far more conservative countries like Saudi Arabia, it took only one government order to close down mosques but in Pakistan, the government first had to convince the clerics that closing mosques during a pandemic is not un-Islamic. Even more dangerous is the fact that the state no longer holds much power over the religious element in our society. You know there is a problem when even the state is worried about how the religious segment might respond to a decision taken by the government.
Lastly, coronavirus has shown us that we as a nation tend to underestimate issues that end up becoming crises. From politics to health, our policies and general behavior towards a problem have always been curative and not preventive. Social distancing was taken lightly initially. Memes and TikTok videos emerged on social media that ridiculed the idea of social distancing. It was only after the Sindh government decided to implement a strong lockdown and media’s constant coverage of the rising number of patients in Pakistan that the people started to take the idea of social distancing seriously.
Before the lockdown in Sindh, a friend of mine mentioned that he will be leaving with the Tablighi Jamaat for a few days. This idea of his was met with some serious reservations but the concerned friend had the “I don’t care, Allah will take care” attitude. After he returned, he was informed that some members from the same Tablighi Jamaat group have been tested positive. My friend is in quarantine as I write this article.