Ideally, our politicians — whether in the government or the opposition — should have adjusted and readjusted their priorities in line with the myriad challenges faced by the country, including the rising second tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. But perhaps it is too much to expect from those driven by their own selfish power game.
Instead of educating the masses, through their words and deeds, on how to follow the doctors’ advice of maintaining physical distance, staying away from political, social and religious events and wearing masks, our politicians are doing their utmost to undermine, belittle and violate these Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Their attitude is selfish, myopic and amateurish to say the least, while their followers exhibit nothing but a slavish mentality.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) took its own time in announcing a ban on rallies and meetings. But even after this much-delayed, but welcome announcement, one observes that wherever there is an official function attended by some minister or government functionary, the SOPs of social distancing and wearing of masks are hardly followed. Additionally, the government has failed to engage the opposition, the media and opinion-makers in building a national consensus on the pandemic challenge and ensure safe and healthy economic activities, which are a must to keep the country’s economy afloat in these tough times. The government should have tackled the problem on a war-footing.
The role of the opposition, operating under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), has been outright criminal; it continues to hold anti-government rallies, risking the lives of its followers and all those who come in contact with them.
A number of the opposition stalwarts, including Pakistan Peoples’ Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, were themselves afflicted with corona, but the PDM’s game plan remains unchanged.
The PPP, which won praise even from critics for its role at the outbreak of COVID-19, has of late done a volte face. For a family function — the engagement ceremony of Benazir Bhutto’s daughter, Bakhtawar — the Bhutto-Zardari clan rightly asked guests to provide a negative coronavirus test report and adhere to SOPs, but alongside it is asking its followers and workers to attend the PDM public meetings, where maintaining physical distance is next to impossible. In the PPP-ruled Sindh, the provincial government has been advocating precaution, but contrary to the federal government’s precautionary measure of closing down educational institutions, the provincial government wants them to remain open.
This is a steep climbdown from the days when Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, with clasped hands and teary eyes, used to make appeals for lockdowns, urging people to stay home. Unfortunately, PPP’s poster-boy for corona was also struck down with the virus.
As for the rest of the PDM leadership, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders, from Maryam Nawaz to Rana Sanaullah Khan, leave no opportunity to trivialise the challenge posed by the pandemic. Many PML-N leaders appearing on assorted television talk shows or at media briefings, when asked about their irresponsible behaviour and continuing political activities in times of coronavirus, sidetracked the issue by making a dig at the government or branding Prime Minister Imran Khan as “COVID-18” or a bigger virus than corona.
The smaller religious and sub-nationalist parties, which are a part of the PDM bandwagon, also seem oblivious to the coronavirus challenge. For short-term and maybe tactical gains, a majority of the politicians are acting in a highly irresponsible manner. As they move from city to city holding rallies and public meetings, they are putting the lives of more and more citizens at grave risk, and nullifying all the efforts to combat the pandemic. As the death toll mounts, prices skyrocket, unemployment rises and people struggle to stay afloat, can the country afford the economic fallout of the second deadly wave of COVID-19?