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Dawn Editorial 4 April 2020

Drap delay

IT is distressing to learn that the country’s lead regulator for the pharmaceutical sector, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, was largely dysfunctional between Feb 25 and March 31 when the fight against Covid-19 had begun in earnest. During that period, 10 critical appointments were pending, and since these were posts where all important decisions are made, the authority was unable to respond to any requests from the pharmaceutical sector, whether on pricing or permission to introduce new drugs or approve basic things necessary for the fight against the coronavirus such as hand sanitisers. The result is that a large number of players have entered the hand sanitiser market, and the majority of what they are selling are substandard products that would be ineffective against the virus since a test conducted by the Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority shows they have alcohol content below 60pc, which is the minimum required threshold for effectiveness against the virus.
In addition, manufacturers have not been able to place orders for many medicines that may be essential for the fight, such as chloroquine, because crucial price adjustments are required before orders for raw material can be placed due to large fluctuations in the global markets. Since nobody had been appointed to the posts where such price adjustments are usually discussed, the manufacturers emptied their stock without placing new orders while they waited for the position to be filled. As it turns out, Drap filled those positions in a hurry on the evening of March 31 once the media queries began to come in. This action demonstrated that the delay had been entirely unnecessary and the positions need not have been vacant all this time. This is nothing short of a travesty. Our front-line professionals in the health sector are making enormous sacrifices in this fight and it is surely distressing for them to learn of the level of ineptitude that rendered the lead drug regulator dysfunctional at a crucial time.


Verdict in Daniel Pearl case


As a result, one of the most dangerous and wily militants the world has yet seen may soon walk free.
Citing lack of evidence, the appellate bench overturned the death penalty handed down in 2002 to Omar Saeed Sheikh as the main accused in the Daniel Pearl case.
However, while acquitting him and three co-accused on the charges of murder and kidnapping for ransom, it found Sheikh guilty of abducting the American journalist and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment.
Given the 18 years he has already spent in jail, he could be released within days.
Pearl’s abduction and beheading in January 2002, a few months after 9/11, is a grisly signpost in the history of militancy in Pakistan.
It catapulted local terrorist networks into the global ‘war on terror’, and not only because of the victim’s nationality: the operation that culminated in Pearl’s murder was an early example of the nexus between homegrown extremists and Al Qaeda, the foremost international terrorist outfit at the time.
Moreover, his death marked the beginning of an open season on journalists reporting on militancy.
The conviction of at least some of the perpetrators in the Daniel Pearl case was a rare exception to that impunity — until now.
Suffice it to say, there were many reasons for police and intelligence agencies to build a watertight case against the individuals involved — 27, according to details unearthed by two international, highly regarded investigative journalism bodies.
As it turned out, only four, including Sheikh, were eventually charged and convicted.
Some were killed in ‘police encounters’ while others remained free.
Over the course of nearly two decades, several names surfaced as being part of the conspiracy — among them the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Yet the prosecution went nowhere, seemingly suspended between inaction and confusion — if not worse.
The appeal hearings brought to light a shamefully flawed investigation including forced confessions and possible evidence tampering.
Such malpractices are nothing out of the ordinary here, except in this instance Pakistan’s reputation for acting against militancy is at stake.
The man on the verge of achieving his freedom has time and again demonstrated an implacable determination to act on his extremist convictions.
Aside from the Daniel Pearl case, Sheikh is also suspected of having played a role in planning one of the assassination attempts against Gen Musharraf.
Indeed, so cunning and resourceful is he that even from behind bars, he attempted to heighten Pakistan-India tensions in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks by making hoax calls to Pakistan’s then president and chief of army staff.


One million mark

MORE than a million cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported across the world, and over 55,000 deaths, a staggering figure that is expected to only rise in the coming days. Even when the immediate crisis is over — sooner rather than later, one can only hope — and some semblance of ‘normalcy’ returns to public life, the questions raised in its wake and the weaknesses exposed with regard to our systems of governance and economy will remain. In any case, history will judge how the world’s leadership responded to the global health emergency when it stared them in the face. Did they face the crisis head on, make difficult decisions in time? Or did they falter, bury their heads in the sand, and grow paralysed with indecision? While China has been able to contain the spread of the virus through strict measures, quickly building quarantine facilities and extending the lockdown for millions of its citizens — and is now generously assisting other countries with its expertise and medical supplies — its initial suppression of a young doctor who raised alarm about a new ‘SARS-like’ illness led to the situation quickly spiralling out of control in the first place. But from being the initial epicentre of Covid-19, China now accounts for a mere 8pc of all global cases, while Italy and Spain have registered 11pc of the total number of all cases each, sharing approximately 30,000 deaths between them. Despite so much death and sickness witnessed by some of the strongest healthcare systems of Europe, the two countries believe the situation may now be stabilising.
In contrast, the US has now surpassed all other countries with the highest number of Covid-19 cases, accounting for a massive 22pc of the global tally and double that of Italy and Spain. President Donald Trump’s response is a textbook example of what not to do in the face of a health emergency, beginning with the dismissal of the government’s pandemic response team in 2018, which was established by his predecessor, Barack Obama, in response to the Ebola outbreak. Besides the immediate threat the virus presents to lives and livelihoods, and its burden on healthcare infrastructures and workers, the extended lockdowns threaten starvation and food riots, already being witnessed in some countries such as Lebanon. Every tragedy presents an opportunity to learn and grow — but only if we care to pay attention to the distress signals inflicting the body politic.


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