THE alarm bells are ringing at a deafening pitch as the latest Covid-19 projections for Pakistan come to light. Based on the rapidly rising rate of infections and daily deaths in the second week of June, the data tells a harrowing story. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the country are galloping towards the 150,000 mark — a trajectory which federal minister Asad Umar has warned may result in doubling the number of cases by the end of the month, with up to 1.2m by end July. The government’s projections are indeed worrisome. Yet, figures revealed by an Imperial College London simulation are even more startling, as they model the worst-case scenarios for hundreds of countries: the UK data simulates that, in the extreme event that no action is taken to curb the spread, 2.2m people could die of Covid-19 in Pakistan between February 2020 and June 2021. The same analysis suggests that, with interventions and mitigation, deaths could be lowered by at least 40pc.
This data is not a prediction, but it clearly points to how critical a decisive, data-led mitigation strategy is in determining which path Pakistan takes. The government has repeated appeals for the public to wear face masks, practice distancing and understand the gravity of the crisis. Numerous times, the term ‘smart lockdown’ has been invoked to show how authorities will react to Covid-19 transmissions by sealing virus hotspot localities. More recently, and for the first time, an ambitious target of 100,000 daily tests — which is four times more than the number of daily tests being conducted at present — has also been announced. But as projections create panic and citizens flout SOPs despite repeated appeals, are these steps enough?
The death and doom unleashed by Covid-19 has brought a crisis of apocalyptic proportions to our doorstep. The situation demands unprecedented leadership, intelligent strategising and inclusive decision-making. Pakistan is running into a full-on horror show which will not let up if the government continues its policy of pleading and volunteer policing. This is the time for the government and opposition to abandon hostilities and work together to devise an overarching plan. The centre and provinces must be united in planning for what will be one of Pakistan’s darkest periods. How can healthcare staff and infrastructure be boosted; what can be done to effectively keep people at home; what economic relief can be provided to those hit hardest; what arrangements can be made for mass funerals; how will the psychological toll of these fatalities be lessened — are just some of the key challenges our political leadership should be addressing. The attitude of outright rejecting lockdowns despite strong evidence that lives can be saved is unacceptable. There are several good examples from other countries which can be applied in Pakistan. To avoid walking blindly into this fast-approaching disaster, the government needs to produce a concrete strategy.
Talking to the PTM
THE government has once again invited leaders of the estranged Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, an organisation working for the rights of Pakhtuns, to come to the negotiating table and discuss all contentious issues in a bid to resolve them. Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak said in a statement that Pakhtuns belong to the same province and should collectively work for its betterment. PTM MNA Mohsin Dawar has welcomed the government’s statement, saying that the PTM was always open to negotiations even though such efforts had previously failed. He, however, stated that the government should be represented by those who had the power to implement agreements. This is a welcome development. Many of the grievances aired by the PTM require a sincere hearing by the government. If there are issues that have burned through the reservoir of goodwill the state should have towards its citizens, and if the PTM has complained about them, then it is incumbent on the authorities to not only listen to these complaints but to also try and address them. At the same time, the PTM should hear out the objections of state institutions to the way it conducts its politics. Once the two sides have a basic appreciation of the canvas on which to hold negotiations, the process can start on a positive note. However, for now, the important thing is to proactively get the government and PTM representatives to meet face to face in a civil manner and agree on a broad agenda of talks — as a confidence-building measure, the state could discourage the vicious social media campaign against the PTM. The list of grievances on both sides is as well-known as it is long. It serves little purpose at this stage to dwell on them. Instead, both sides should express a genuine desire to work towards building a working relationship that can ensure — at the very least — that dialogue does not break down. Neither side should say or do anything that could damage the process in its infancy.
The state is meant to look after its citizens and address their grievances. Sometimes states use heavy-handed measures and often, as in this case, the outcome is far from positive. What we need now is a healing touch that persuades the PTM that the redressal of its grievances is the top priority of the state. The defence minister has done well to take the initiative. The PTM must reciprocate fully.
EVEN as the rage exhibited by protesters across the world over the tragic killing of George Floyd refuses to subside, the news regarding the death of another African-American at the hands of white police officers, this time in the US city of Atlanta, has unleashed more anger. Rayshard Brooks was shot by police while trying to evade arrest outside a fast-food outlet on Friday. Again, legitimate questions arise over the use of lethal force by the men in uniform against a suspect. Brooks’ death in such tragic circumstances at a time when the world’s attention is focused on police brutality and racism in the US has proved how deep rooted the problem is. It would not be wrong to ask if the police officers would have used such lethal force if Rayshard Brooks belonged to the majority community in the US. It has rightly been pointed out that strained race relations in America can be traced to centuries ago, when the ancestors of black Americans were brought to the country aboard slave ships from Africa. In fact, up till the mid-1960s, racial segregation laws continued to be on the books in the US. While there have been considerable improvements over the decades, the combative and partisan nature of President Donald Trump’s politics has only resurrected the demons of racism which many might have believed to be a thing of the past.
Both in the US and the rest of the world, people are demanding an end to the glorification of colonial and imperial figures that played key roles in the subjugation, rape and murder of millions of people in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas. Moreover, people are sick of racist attitudes displayed by law enforcers in self-professed democratic societies and are demanding accountability. One doesn’t know when those states that have been built on the legacy of colonialism and racism will come to terms with their history. But when they do, one hopes they will pledge to create more egalitarian societies.