Inescapable conclusion

Inescapable conclusion

One third of the globe – comprising over 100 countries and 2.6 billion people – is in various stages of “lockdown” against the spreading Corona virus. If justification for “lockdown” – isolating people to protect them from being infected – is needed, one only has to learn from the experience of China and Italy, the two worst hit countries, that have finally managed to flatten and then turn the exponential curve of infection via managed “lockdowns” of areas, cities and people. Even US President Donald Trump and UK Premier Boris Johnson, two reluctant “lockdowners”, have bitten the bullet and embarked on progressive lockdowns.

Yet Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan, is still, after all the evidence has piled up, resisting any effective lockdown in the country, thereby nourishing the conditions in which the virus acquires exponential proportions and overwhelms the state system. The terrible confusion in the mind of the Leader of Pakistan is compounded by the fact that, in effect, different parts of the provinces and country are “locking” down on their own in a haphazard and uncoordinated manner, which makes their initiatives relatively ineffective. Ominously enough, the Miltablishment is so alarmed at this lack of leadership and clarity of action when it is urgently needed that it has autonomously readied for “aiding civil power”. Conservative estimates suggest that within a couple of weeks, if there is no swift, concerted and coordinated lockdown in the entire country, the infection will hit over 100,000 Pakistanis and many will die.

Imran Khan worries that an effective lockdown will halt economic activity and push millions of factory workers and daily wage earners below the “poverty line” and make their lives a living hell. But he doesn’t want to consider what would happen not just to the working class but to all Pakistanis if the virus disables the working population and locks down the system amidst fear, chaos and anarchy. The PM’s “confusion” is now being attributed to close advisors and confidantes from the business community of “haves” who don’t want to close factories and businesses or pay wages if closures are enforced.

Imran Khan’s lack of serious concern – “this too shall pass” philosophy – is also attributed to the current low scale of the infection in Pakistan compared to other many other countries. But the evidence shows that this slow starting point is because of the low level of physical contact and travel between the origin of the virus in Wuhan, China, and Pakistan – Pakistanis in Wuhan were quarantined immediately and flights suspended soon thereafter. But as the NDMA Chairman has pointed out, 85% of the infections come from infected Pakistanis returning to Pakistan, most notably from Iran via Balochistan, who have escaped into the populace at large without being tested and quarantined, never mind that Mr Khan has heaped praise on the Balochistan CM for effective action! But latest independent projections are that the curve will rise steeply in the next two weeks and keep rising exponentially if the current policy impasse continues.

Forget about national lockdowns. The federal government has even been loath to restrict religious gatherings which are potential dens of infection and incubation. One report claims that many of the Faithful have infected their home countries upon return after attending large religious events in Pakistan. Incredibly enough, most Muslim countries have stopped Muslims from even praying in mosques until the threat lasts but in Pakistan we are still trying to “convince” the worthy ulema to agree to implement the Fatwa from Al Azhar in Cairo against Friday prayers in mosques!

Imran Khan claims his government doesn’t have the economic resources and manpower to stem the infection via a national lockdown. The so-called “relief package” is pathetically lacking for the poor and most vulnerable. Yet international donors have committed several billion dollars to Corona-assistance and put demands for harsh economic adjustments in cold storage. The political leadership of at least one province – Sindh – has marshalled its resources and shown the way forward. And the Pakistan Army has signaled its will and ability to shoulder the burden of lockdown and supply chain logistics for which it is trained.

The quality and caliber of a true leader is tested in times of national crisis. That is when clarity of thought is translated into decisive action. For such action to be effective, it must be underpinned by a national consensus so that the nation rises collectively to the challenge. Yet in five recent media addresses to the nation, Imran Khan has demonstrated a confused and rigid mind that refuses to acknowledge credible, evidential realities. Worse, his attitude to the opposition parties remains petulantly vindictive – he wants to eliminate them all rather than hold a constructive dialogue with them in the national interest.

The conclusion is inescapable. Imran Khan has singularly disqualified himself from being able to make swift, decisive, effective national consensus policy in Pakistan’s perilous hour of need.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.