Ways of learning
PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan is seeking ways to ensure the best possible answers to the country’s education crisis brought on by Covid-19 so that academic activities in the country can begin again. He expressed his concern at a meeting called to discuss the disruption in the education sector. In fact, the government will have to try and be innovative at all levels of education. Indeed, it has shown some resourcefulness in this direction by launching an education channel recently, and reportedly has plans to introduce more such schemes. The education sector was the first one to be closed with the outbreak of the pandemic. It is still the most vulnerable of sectors, and the most deserving of protection because of the large number of young lives involved. The new world that has to emerge on the basis of sobering new realities will determine new models to follow. But at the moment a key strategy would be to try and improve technology and make it accessible to as many households as possible so that the greatest number of youngsters can benefit. Maximum protection is necessary as the country navigates a sensitive phase in public health, with the graph of infection going up.
It is true that the online system and other modes of distance learning such as the one that employs radio to reach remote areas are not quite equal to the classroom experience, particularly in a country not fully conversant with the idiom of modern technology. But at this time, there are not many options. Unfortunately, while many students and teachers have been availing internet facilities, the latter are out of the reach of several others. Protests have been held by college and university students, such as those from Balochistan where online learning is difficult on account of poor internet access and power failure. The government must address these issues as we are still some months away from returning to classrooms and lecture halls, perhaps even from experimenting with smaller classes in more spacious places.
LIKE many other crises before it, Covid-19 has sadly brought out the worst in us. Reports have surfaced that some of those who tested positive for the coronavirus and have now recovered are selling blood plasma instead of making a donation as advised by the authorities. Some of them are said to have demanded tens of thousands of rupees for plasma from relatives of patients suffering from strong Covid-19 symptoms. There are reports that labs are enabling this illegal sale of plasma. The demand for plasma from recovered patients is growing as preliminary research suggests that antibodies in the blood of former Covid-19 patients can help other patients recover. That people are attempting to literally cash in on a pandemic is a tragic indictment of humanity. The anguish of those who are seriously affected by the coronavirus is seen by some as an opportunity to make money, turning what should be a voluntary act of donation into a clandestine commercial operation. Recovered Covid-19 patients should donate plasma as a noble gesture to help those suffering from a potentially fatal illness.
Even as these illegal transactions occur, the reality is that plasma therapy is not a cure for the virus. The federal ministry of health services has warned that plasma therapy could have dangerous side effects, including fluctuating temperatures, ‘body aches, allergic reactions, transfusion-associated circulatory overload, bronchospasm, and transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C’. Convalescent plasma, or CP, transfusions for Covid-19 patients is a line of therapy which is still in the experimental stages and should only be employed in “controlled settings as part of research protocol”. According to government guidelines, those conducting the research must obtain endorsement and get a health facility approved by the health ministry in which the therapy can begin under supervision. Only those hospitals that have government approval to conduct this therapy can register their Covid-19 patients in clinical trials which have the approval of the relevant authorities. Furthermore, the guidelines suggest that a Covid-19 patient participating in a clinical trial can be eligible for CP treatment under a qualified physician. Under no circumstances should citizens be experimenting with plasma therapy without the approval of the designated hospitals. As desperate as some patients’ families may be to see them recover quickly, buying plasma and transfusing it without the guidance of a qualified physician is both exploitative and dangerous.
Imran Farooq case
A DECADE after estranged MQM leader Imran Farooq was brutally bludgeoned to death in a quiet London neighbourhood, an antiterrorism court in Islamabad on Thursday sentenced three men to life in jail for the murder. Moreover, the court ruled that Muttahida supremo Altaf Hussain ordered the murder of the man once considered to be a close confidant of the party’s founder. Though the case had been weakened by a delayed investigation, the decision is important as it has established in a court of law what many had suspected for decades: that behind the veneer of politics, Mr Hussain was running the MQM as a criminal organisation, particularly showing no mercy to internal dissent. In the mid-1990s, Azeem Ahmed Tariq, chairman of the MQM, was mysteriously murdered. His killers have yet to be found, though it is widely believed he was neutralised because he posed a potential challenge to Mr Hussain’s leadership. Imran Farooq also had a reputation for ruthlessness and was at one time considered the MQM’s key ideologue, before he drifted away from Altaf and was reportedly considering forming his own political set-up.
The conviction also provides an unenviable denouement of the MQM story. At one time, the united Muttahida ruled over Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh with an iron fist. Altaf Hussain was the uncrowned king of Karachi, with the nation’s leading political parties, its establishment, as well as foreign forces wooing him and his party for their respective purposes. Its violent tactics were overlooked — such as during the May 12, 2007, riots — while it could shut down Pakistan’s economic heart within minutes on the flimsiest of pretexts. And along with brooking no internal dissent, political opponents and members of the media also suffered if they dared to criticise Altaf ‘bhai’ and his party. However, things started to change in 2015, when the Rangers raided Nine Zero, the party’s Karachi headquarters, while the final nail in the coffin came when Mr Hussain made an ill-advised speech in August 2016 in which he attacked the country itself. At this point, the powers that be had decided that enough was enough, and that Mr Hussain and his party had outlived their usefulness. In the aftermath of this controversial speech, the party was split into the loyalist London and mainstream Pakistan factions, the latter disavowing any links to the party founder.
There are lessons in MQM’s rise and fall. Indeed, the party sent members of Sindh’s urban middle class to the assemblies in a political landscape that had been dominated by the landed elite and members of traditional political families. Yet its penchant for criminality and violence proved to be its undoing, and now it appears to be a spent force. There is still a vacuum in urban Sindh, but anyone wishing to fill it will need to learn from the Muttahida’s hubris.