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Need for unity in the corona war

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was spot on when he said that there was an urgent need for unity and an identical narrative in the fight against the coronavirus. "This is a war and only those nations win who demonstrate national unity, cohesion [and]

Updated May 17 2020

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was spot on when he said that there was an urgent need for unity and an identical narrative in the fight against the coronavirus. "This is a war and only those nations win who demonstrate national unity, cohesion [and] take timely decisions with collective wisdom," he rightly said, while stressing that entering the second phase of the lockdown on Monday, with some extra restrictions, does not mean it will be lifted completely. Sindh must be credited with taking some of the most important decisions at the right time, when the virus had just begun invading our shores, otherwise the number of cases as well as deaths would have been much higher all through the last quarter. As the CM reminded everybody, Sindh recorded its first case on February 26 and in just a matter of days the provincial government was able to move fast enough to understand the nature of the onslaught and impose an initial lockdown. The idea was to try and keep the virus contained among zaireen (religious pilgrims) who initially brought it from a neighbouring country here. And - this is perhaps the most crucial part - throughout these months the Sindh government has kept all channels of communications open with all stakeholders, and held regular feedback meetings with businessmen, regulators, traders, ulema, etc; something that should have happened more in other provinces as well.
Yet, strangely, the centre and Sindh have been unable to see eye to eye on the main strategy for this war. Sindh, like much of the world, favoured a strict lockdown initially for very obvious reasons. Since the virus spreads very fast, practically all countries across the world thought it best to hunker down for a while to limit its spread, keep economies alive with targeted relief packages till necessary, and then open up slowly so that the burden on healthcare systems is minimal. But Pakistan's federal government, especially Prime Minister Imran Khan, found it unfeasible on grounds that any lockdown would push the lowest income groups, especially daily wagers, over the edge far sooner than any lethal, unprecedented virus without a cure. And this disagreement continued even though PTI's own and allied governments in Punjab, KP and Balochistan also found it necessary to lock everything down for a fortnight to a month at least. Still, for some reasons, the prime minister kept disagreeing, even accusing the elite of shutting down everything at the expense of everyone else even though he was still the head of government and his own government was imposing the lockdown. Plus, it's not as if he's not surrounded himself with shining stars of the same elite that he talked about. Some pundits feel the PM never indulges the opposition because he's convinced that they are corrupt and considers it beneath himself to engage with them. But such an attitude will only hurt his own government in such uncertain times when, more than ever, leaders are measured by their ability to provide direction to all players in their teams.
The result of all this confusion, especially from Sindh's point of view, was that it diluted the lockdown and wasted the province's time and resources. When the prime minister himself was talking down the self-quarantine policy, it was only natural for some people to be out and about. But now, when most countries across the world are relaxing their lockdowns, and Pakistan must also, it is crucial that the federal and all provincial governments be on the same page and follow the same strategy. The government has already provided as much economic cushion as it could, and now the economy must be brought back to life to relieve all the pressure on the employment market. There will be only one chance to get it right, because a country like Pakistan will just not be able to meet all the financial obligations of another lockdown should the reopening be compromised. And it's a roll of the dice really at the end of the day because there's every chance for the virus to spread among workers and end the initiative as soon as it begins. That makes it all the more important to act according to a concrete plan and with exemplary discipline. The people, too, will have to play a big role if this war is to be won. Even if the official narrative is streamlined, things will simply fall apart if people in offices and shops do not follow safety protocols immaculately. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has assured the centre that Sindh would help implement all measures necessary for the next phase. It is now up to the federal government to lead the country through this make-or-break period.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020