Nisar A. Memon
19-March- 2020 – Pakistan Observer
Coronavirus COVID-19 has brought untold miseries in a shortest period of time, in almost the whole world. All countries, including Pakistan, are bravely facing it. China where it first surfaced is the worst affected, but as usual China distinguished itself by leading to fight it with supersonic speed matching the speed with which this deadly virus came. The resolve, determination, plans and the speed of response of China has generated great hope that this virus will soon end. The full damage is not likely to be ascertained soon, but it will be of astronomical magnitude and shall leave its lasting effect.
It has come in at the very beginning of this decade when children of Mother Earth were tackling the challenges of climate change disasters, poverty, injustices, violation of human rights in occupied Jammu & Kashmir in India, threats of using water as instrument of war, unprecedented economic burden of inflation in Pakistan brought about by wavery governance, unfinished war in Syria, increasing illegal annexation of Palestinian land by Israel, and global refugees.
Today, the worst affected countries by CODIV-19 after China (+80,000) are: Italy (+31,000), Iran (+16,000), Spain (11,000) and Europe. The reasons appear to be delayed understanding of this virus and consequently inadequate preparedness to stop its spread. Worldwide there are nearly 200,000 confirmed cases with about 8,000 reported deaths. Pakistan has about 247 confirmed cases with no reported death. Countries and multilateral agencies have woken up to contain further damage. USA, the super-power with experience and scientific and technological capability was too focused on internal matters, including the Presidential elections and its economic and political war with China. It, therefore responded late but has developed vaccine against this virus.
Pakistan’s new federal coalition government that acquired the power in August 2018, at the break of virus news was involved in launching tirade against its opponents, against corruption using mainly the institution and instruments of National Accountability Bureau, trying different teams for economic recovery finally settling for IMF experience team, proving its credentials and credibility, taking on the media which earlier was its ‘darling’, but the most significant and dangerous is its fight against the only province – Sindh, where a national opposition party won the elections and formed single party government.
In this backdrop comes COVID-9 from not far off but from next door neighbor, not from a hostile country but a closest friend China. We had all the time and means to act fast but it is believed that despite good statements full gamut of problem was not addressed in coordinated way. It is duly recognized by all and sundry that Sindh government demonstrated leadership and Chief Minister Murad Shah led from the front and put in early preventive actions and succeeded with very few contained virus cases. As lone warrior he is on record urging the federal governments attention and support. Unfortunately, the inborn political hostility dominated federal leadership behavior and the lukewarm response did the damage that was to come.
The Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza, in the absence of Federal Minister, led the federal efforts very professionally and earned national and international admiration by putting in place needed policy and program. But, bolt from the blue came from western borders where our citizens had gone for ziarat in Iran. The steep rise from 5 virus detected to about 300 today due to Zairean in just few days has raised questions on coordination between our embassy in Tehran, federal foreign ministry, federal health ministry, Baluchistan provincial government and all other provinces specially the Sindh where there was a receptive government ably led by its Chief Minister. It is now the federal government responsibility to immediately call a meeting of The Council of Common Interests and put the record straight by communicating the facts of the matter to the people.
Pakistan is a resilient nation and in the face of all past challenges like wars in 1965 and 1971, earth quake of 2005, floods of 2010 and other crises have stood as one. This is yet another time we shall come out successfully and convert COVID-19 challenge into opportunities for us which will far outweigh the negatives we can see and forecast.
The single most opportunity is to build our Health System on urgent and emergent basis and in this not only federal, provincial and local governments will be one but all friendly countries, regional alliances like: SAARC and SCO, international bodies like UN, IMF, WB and above all our private sector Corporate Social Responsibility programs shall join, if the political leadership lead the way. The Health Emergency can be declared with appropriate organization to ensure a Command & Control System is in place. The short-term gain is responding to this virus but the long term gain is what we have not done that is a robust health system for our people. The think-tanks, heath NGOs, health professionals and practitioners will be more than happy to join the national efforts.
The politically divided nation while uniting on health will pave the way to unite on all other needed challenges. Just one successful model is needed. This will discourage and disregard all negative propaganda in the way to meeting the virus challenge. This will also dissuade the ill-advised persons to converge their energies on these positive efforts rather than creating confusion on our foreign policy like the former spokesperson has done by releasing statement and many others like her. This initiative will also wake up those citizens who are in denial mode regarding the urgency of response to this challenge.
Nisar A. Memon, former: federal minister & senator