Editorial by: M. Ziauddin
Both, the PTI-led coalition government and the 11-party opposition alliance–the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), seem responsible in equal measure for turning Covid-19 into a political football. Indeed, the two appear equally guilty of being insensitive to the health hazards the population at large has been exposed to since the country got hit by the severer wave of the life-threatening pandemic.
The PDM has pursued its three- month long, six-city public protest tour seemingly completely ignoring the pandemic threat. On the other hand, the government rather than seeking coopera- tion of the opposition in meeting the lethal national challenge in the offing has been provoking the PDM accusing it, instead, of fueling the pandemic by not calling off its protest campaign while at the same time whenever it felt it necessary the ruling Party itself seemingly did not hesitate organizing public meetings of its own, violating the NCOC prescribed code.
There is, however, an immediate context to this seemingly deadly football match going on between the government and the opposition dating back to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s egoistical response to the opposition’s early offers of cooperation.
On March 20 PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari declared that in view of the serious threat posed by the pandemic he would put on the back burner his political differences with the ruling coalition and accept Imran Khan as his PM without any reservations. This gesture of Bilawal received nation-wide appreciation but the PM disdainfully ignored the offer.
Rather, on March 25 the PM provoked the Opposition further by walking out abruptly, without informing the other participants or even seeking the permission of the chair from a parliamentary
parties’ meeting called on-line via Skype by the NA Speaker Asad Qaisar. The meeting had been called specifically for developing a consensus across the party lines with regard to the official plans to meet the challenge of the pandemic.
Oddly enough, it was the PM himself who kicked-off the point-scoring pandemic football match against the opposition when Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on March 22 announced that he would ‘lockdown’ the province for a fortnight from midnight. He was to announce around 4 PM the same day the details of how the lockdown would be observed. But at 3:30 PM on the same day the PM forestalled the Sindh CM with his own address to the nation on the same subject announcing his ‘smart’ prescriptions for meeting the challenge.
Traditionally, whenever presidents and prime ministers felt like addressing the nation the fixture would always be timed well past 7 PM. But PM in his desperation to speak before Murad Ali Shah did, ignored the tradition and addressed the nation at 3:30 PM. Again, in his desperation, he also forgot that the appropriate day to address the nation, if at all there was a need, was the next day–-March 23, the Republic Day.
And straining credulity he said in his March 22 preemptive address that he was opposed to enforcing ‘complete’ lockdown which to him was like imposing a ‘curfew’ which he thought would adversely affect the poorest of Pakistan’s poor, mostly daily wage earners, vendors, and small shop keepers.
But he was only deliberately circumnavigating the fact that even the trial lockdown that was being gradually enforced since March 17, in Sindh and Balochistan had been done with appeals to the population to confine themselves to their houses, keep a reasonable physical distance while interacting with friends, colleagues, and family (educational institutions and most governments and private non-essential offices, big market places, shopping plazas, hotels, and restaurants were already being closed down). And the PM had also ignored the fact that the Sindh enforced trial lockdown was certainly not a curfew as grocery shops, medical stores, Karachi port, and oil transport system had remained open for business.
However, when the very next day the rest of Pakistan including the PTI ruled Punjab and KPK provincial governments and Islamabad enforced lockdowns identical to that of Sindh’s (the written orders issued by Sindh and Punjab governments were word for word identical) the PM and his spin doctors were found resorting to one falsehood after the other trying to show what was happening in the rest of Pakistan which they labeled as ‘shutdown’ was different from Sindh’s ‘lockdown’!!!
And now with the death toll rising steeply because of the severe second wave of the pandemic, the PM is talking of complete lockdown while the Sindh government is resorting to smart lockdowns.