Pandemicitis

One can make a case, the developed world is visibly harder hit because it was better off in the first place: A case of more to lose? Paralysis of New York’s public transport impacts city life in a way the interruption or suspension of a dysfunctional system of public transport never could. Then, the courteously termed developing world has never had hospitals expected to ‘cope’ with the population’s healthcare needs even in the best of times. We are primed in inadequacy, and our citizens have a stoicism in social crises as well as a lack of expectation from public services and utilities that the developed world is prosperous enough to have evolved out of. However, this also implies we may suffer comprehensive arrest without recourse to life-support kit. And in the one country, cities present specific challenges. The way Karachi’s ghettoes respond to strain on the social fabric, the vulnerabilities to the nature of the impact, diverges from attitudes in the more cohesively knit city which Lahore is. How does a bickering federation ‘equalise’? Pakistan needs inter-provincial understanding more than ever.

At a micro level, the way that a still (though diminishingly) privileged pampered urban-based female of the species is hit locally by Covid-19’s looming is different from the diligently hardworking woman who doesn’t live-in but cleans the house for her and her family. The employer-employee reaction to an interruption of this relationship and the resultant stresses have contrasting textures and involve new demands and responsibilities. And while mutual recognition of the consequences of economic difference increases, the class difference dissipates in sharing common fears for the well-being of the near and dear: what does the caregiver do when overcome by demands from the sick? What does the breadwinner do when the daily wage vanishes or when access to the bread is not assured? While the industrial tycoon may lose an industry, his worker loses his livelihood. Suddenly, the man in the village has a food security his brother who opted for town-life and better earnings is losing surety of.

In the variegated contexts of third world towns and villages Covid-19 is turning life-patterns topsy-turvy; and the tops and the ‘turvs’, as it were, pose challenges and present themselves in everyday terms quite unlike those confronting the privileged in organized first world cities or corn/belt equivalents of dihati mindsets. How do you explain self-isolation to the illiterate urban homeless; expect social distancing from people who will not even queue? Enforce law and order when the LEAs are mistrusted? Convince people not to congregate in prayer?

Even those who were assured of having Pakistan’s best in their reach in terms of health facilities (and excellent if numerically limited ones exist) now have to worry these may already be in full use by other members of the fellow-elite, and mainstream medical expertise have been diverted to children of a lesser god whom Covid-19 may have struck first or in greater numbers. For the present at least meeting the needs of the underdog has become a priority for any government that wishes to survive. Our people have large hearts and minimal demands but what happens if the ‘situation’ cannot be kept from becoming desperate? Penultimately, if not ultimately everything in Pakistan becomes a matter of how we play politics.

We have many incompetents but we do have competents as well. Taftan should not have happened: and need not have. True, Balochistan is grossly under-developed both socially and in terms of civic infrastructure – that is a longstanding case of sins of omission and commission: All the more cause then for the provincial government in conjunction with the matey federal government to have anticipated the implications of the influx of zaireen from our familiarly porous border with Iran, and for the civil and military (which are positively on the same page) to have been galvanized into doing the necessary. It was quite doable in terms of military expertise and resource but the government lacked foresight – one could even say common sense. For the military to have taken the initiative would have been politically and socially contentious given past history. It showed discretion but ultimately had to prod.

The all too manifest fact that Sindh’s Murad Ali Shah started dealing rapidly – and with a degree of political and administrative effectiveness – with a challenge he saw coming the way of his province merely made the PTI peevish. Pains were taken to avoid seeming to have copycat responses in the Punjab – with a reckless disregard as to the consequences of losing time.  Instead of at least appearing to seek and maintain political cohesion and facilitation of the provincial executive by the federal party command, the governor of Sindh conspicuously journeyed to the Karachi compounds of the faction of the MQM the PTI needs to indulge with a tranche of funds for public succour. What was gained by undercutting or ignoring provincial executive authority? Fortunately, any faction of the MQM being way ahead of the PTI where it comes to being politically savvy, the PPP’s rival-recipients of federal largesse also attended the meeting already scheduled by the CM for the following day. Good for them – and the city’s population—and the province: And the country? 

The PM has to realize his office has national dimension although he derived it on a party platform. And the realization has to show in his words and deeds. The worthy measures conceived at daily PTI core meetings need national implementing. Personally he rejects and is disgusted by the Zardaris and the Sharifs. This is no time to try and persuade all Pakistanis to single-mindedly share his political venom: it is time to accept diversity and pluralities – and paradoxically respect dissent and criticism – so that we all come together and cope with the intrusive disruptive new kid on Pakistan’s block — Covid-19.