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The Express Tribune Editorial 8 April 2020

Fighting unarmed


A third doctor has lost his life fighting the Covid-19 coronavirus in Pakistan, on Monday. The day Dr Abdul Qadir Soomro, 70, succumbed to the deadly infection at a hospital in Karachi was the day that witnessed young members of his fraternity getting a baton-beating from the police some 700 km away, in Quetta. Not just that, dozens belonging to this valiant community, including doctors and paramedics, were stuffed into police vans and thrown in the lockup, as if criminals. Their fault? They were protesting against the unavailability of personal protective equipment in Balochistan hospitals — just as in many other parts of the country — in the wake of more than a dozen of their Quetta fellows contracting the lethal virus potentially because of being ill-equipped.
There have been reports of several other doctors elsewhere in the country falling sick with Covid-19, raising genuine safety concerns among health professionals who have been fighting the pandemic on the frontline. Nurses in various Sindh hospitals are also reportedly working while wearing black arm bands in protest against the non-provision of personal protective gear. Only recently, the Pakistan Medical Association also called upon the government to adequately equip the doctors and paramedics serving in isolation wards for coronavirus patients. And with such calls falling on deaf ears, those serving in corona wards in Quetta hospitals were forced to come out on a protest.
But instead of paying attention to their justified demand, these frontline fighters were treated with batons and threatened with police cases — in what shows the seriousness of the authorities to deal with a crisis that has wreaked havoc with almost every aspect of life even in the most advanced countries of the world. Our doctors and paramedics are rendering a great sacrifice by confronting a potential killer literally unarmed. Time to pay attention to their plight.


Cabinet shake-up


In this topsy-turvy world of Naya Pakistan, Khusro Bakhtiar has become the first casualty of the sugar inquiry report, being promoted to economic affairs minister. He replaces Hammad Azhar, who is now the Federal Minister for Industries. It is unfortunate. Azhar had been doing reasonably well, and this seems to be a reward for Bakhtiar when his name, far from having been cleaned, is still deep in the mud. The other changes saw Fakhar Imam take over Bakhtiar’s previous job as the Federal Minister for National Food Security, MQM’s Aminul Haq appointed as Federal Minister for Telecom, and Azam Swati becoming the new Narcotics Control minister. Swati’s old job, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, will go to Babar Awan. Abdul Razak Dawood loses Industries but is still adviser on Commerce, Textiles, Production, and Investment.
The report also helped open a can of worms in Punjab after provincial government spokesperson Shahbaz Gill said Jahangir Tareen had been removed as chairperson of the provincial task force on agriculture in light of the findings of the inquiry reports. Tareen retorted that he wasn’t chairman and no notification of his appointment existed. So why would Gill feel the urge to tweet this and then not withdraw it? There have long been murmurs that Tareen was indeed chairing these meetings, rather than just attending. Could it be that for well over a year, Tareen has been quietly chairing the meetings of a body that directly influences his business interests without a notification because he is not legally allowed to hold any official government office?
It would help if Tareen clarified what he was doing in those meetings, given that the optics would be bad even if he were just attending as a ‘dishonest’ politician-businessman. Instead, he has doubled down by claiming most of the subsidy money he made was under Shehbaz Sharif. If this were true, and he was ‘honest’, he could have blown the whistle on the corrupt nature of the subsidy, since the Sharifs also benefitted. But he didn’t. He kept the loot for himself. Because that is apparently what trustworthy people do these days.


Time to be realistic

As the extended lockdown has begun to bite all sections of society, the PM stands vindicated for his persistent opposition to a countrywide lockdown for a prolonged period. Firdous Shamim Naqvi, the Opposition Leader in Sindh Assembly, has written a letter to the PM calling for easing the lockdown and opening a few industries with a view to facilitating workers and their dependents. Now many working-class families are on the verge of starvation. The PM’s stance is based on hard realities of life in Pakistan.
Conditions are identical in most developing countries. The majority population in most countries of the global South is poor who finds it difficult to make ends meet. These are very tough times for daily-wage earners, petty shopkeepers and suchlike people. Despite the federal and provincial governments, NGOs and philanthropists having announced free distribution of food rations for the vulnerable sections of society, not many of the deserving are getting these rations. At several places people have held protest demos against favouritism in distribution of ration. Favouritism and other kinds of dishonesty are understandable given the general propensity for taking advantage of a bad situation for selfish gains.
The insensitivity of certain segments is evident from the way advertisements of food items like ice-cream and spices are continuously being shown on TV. Cooking programmes too are going on. This really hurts those who are not getting sufficient food. Well-fed and well-dressed chefs demonstrating how to prepare delicious food fit for the tables of kings, and the chefs bragging about their achievements is in very bad taste at a time when many are not being sufficiently fed. This display of insensitivity touching on cruelty should be stopped forthwith. The prolonged lockdown is affecting all sections of society in one way or the other. It is time to be realistic while taking preventive measures against coronavirus.
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