Discordant approaches

Situation needs consensus, unity

  1. Sunday was a busy day. Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke at 3:30pm repeating his earlier stance on the pandemic. It was baffling to hear him say the same thing over and one should be forgiven for thinking if he had not changed his mind or there was nothing new to report to the public there was little reason for him to speak. Merely 15 minutes later, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced a complete lockdown in the province. This was in complete contrast to what the PM thought. It is not without reason to believe that it was more of a political one-up by the PM and an effort to nullify and discredit the Sindh government effort at dealing with the situation. The PM himself started his extempore speech by saying there was a debate going in the country of locking down the country. He said country was neither faced with a situation such as Italy and other European countries nor were its ground realities similar to those countries. Some 25 per cent of the population, in PM’s views, was daily wagers and they could not afford a lockdown. He however requested people to self-isolate which effectively means the same thing as a lockdown. If people stopped going out there would be no wages for any daily wagers.

Federal government somehow has failed to realize the gravity of the situation. The countries – China and South Korea – that have successfully brought the virus under control and have been able to flatten the curve did it by enforcing lockdown. China put some 60m people under curfew. Initially the world was critical of the steps taken by China but had they not taken such drastic steps the same infected people might have flown out to other parts of the world and who knows we may have far more cases that we have now. We also know that Italy and other European countries and United States initially were in the denial and the US President Donald Trump is on record changing his stance from calling it a hoax to urging the states to take drastic measures.

Under the circumstances, Sindh government’s decision is being widely appreciated. It looks as if the PPP government has done its homework. The provincial government has directed the utility companies to for the time being to waive off the electricity and gas bills and collect them in installments over the next 10 months. He also assured that no utility connection shall be disconnected for the next two months. They also are contemplating measures to provide people with basic necessities, at least to those who cannot get them for themselves.

Ideally there should have been bipartisan approach to dealing with the crisis. The magnitude of the crisis is so great that no government could be expected to deal with it alone. Affluent people could be requested and rightfully expected to help out those who are in their immediate neighbourhood. The Council of Islamic Ideology has already asked for paying zakat ahead of the month of Ramazan as now poor people are in need of it more than later.