Pakistan vs Coronavirus: An Appraisal


TIC Analysis l

Pakistan vs Coronavirus: An Appraisal: Covid 19 also known as the Coronavirus has emerged as the greatest threat of the current time. The Covid-19 virus is a member of the coronavirus family that made the jump from animals to humans late last year. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city of Wuhan. Unusually for a virus that has made the jump from one species to another, it appears to transmit effectively in humans – current estimates show that without strong containment measures the average person who catches Covid-19 will pass it on to two others. The virus also appears to have a higher mortality rate than common illnesses such as seasonal flu.

Pakistan like many other countries of the world has been impacted by this WHO declared Pandemic. It has been battling a sudden outbreak that happened on its Southwestern border in Iran centering on the border town of Taftan. While most of the debate on Covid 19 in Pakistan revolves around the post Taftan scenario, in actuality Pakistan has been engaged in the fight against Covid 19 since day one of the new disease.

When the Covid 19 virus first emerged, Pakistanis were among the many students who were present in the city. Around 1,300 students were in Hubei province, and 800 of these were in Wuhan, the province’s capital, and epicenter of the virus, which has been under lockdown for weeks. The PTI government in coordination with the Chinese authorities decided on the rather hard choice of keeping them in China instead of evacuating them like neighbours Iran and India. The reasoning was simple that by evacuating the students, Pakistan could unknowingly unleash the deadly disease among its vulnerable population. Pakistan’s weak health infrastructure was  a prime factor in this decision. It is pertinent to mention that despite considerable pressure from within (families of the students, hostile segments of the media) and outside (mostly western media using the news to bash Pakistan’s close ties to China) the government continued the policy and succeeded in preventing an infection from China. However, it’s neighbours specifically Iran would not be so lucky.

In Iran religious students returning from China in Qom became unwitting carriers of the virus and started an epidemic across the country. This virus would find itself into Pakistani Shia pilgrims visiting religious sites in Iran and be brought back. The predicament was compounded by Iran’s suppression of any news related to the Covid 19 as a means to ensure success of its upcoming national elections. This criminally negligent behavior of Iran led to Pakistan being “outflanked” by Covid 19 and that too in its soft underbelly of Balochistan province. Thousands of pilgrims were pushed by Iran into the Pak-Iran border region already notorious for its lack of infrastructure. The provincial government in tandem with the Federal government rushed to set up makeshift quarantine centres however despite their best efforts, they were forced to disperse affected to other provinces with better infrastructure and facilities.

It would be in the shifting that the Federal government would find its greatest threat not in the pandemic but in a sustained campaign on both the social media and mainstream media that turned the national emergency into a political mudslinging match. Media cells began to defame the Pakistani federal government and its provincial representatives organized, systemic, professional led approach to the crisis unfavorably to the Opposition led Sindh provinces rather populous approach symbolised by a one man show in the form of its Chief Minister. The weaknesses of Pakistan’s health system which was largely due to the previous 10 year rule of the current Opposition parties became the sin of the incumbent government.

However, the federal government and most of the opposition have been united in striving to defeat  Covid 19. This seems to be a collective strategy as it is a human security issue and the complete National security committee meets to formulate a decision. The Gulf News states that “In the wake of rise in confirmed cases, provincial governments have issued orders to partially shut public spaces. Sindh province was the first to announce drastic measures. Beginning with closing down educational institutes, it then banned public gathering, closed down malls, restaurants, gyms, and places of social gathering across the province for two weeks. Only grocery stores, pharmacies will remain open. Similar partial shutdown has been announced in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Pakistan’s fight against Covid 19 has not been merely limited to its internal situation, it has also looked at external aspects as well. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for the end of Third World Debt in the wake of the Covid 19 Pandemic in continuation of his administration’s policy of championing Third world causes. Similarly, he has called for lifting sanctions on Iran which serves two purposes; one to continue Pakistan’s attempt to play as regional peacemaker and the second to ease the flow of affectees from the regional epicentre of the Covid 19 virus.

While Pakistan’s fight against Covid 19 is far from over, Imran Khan has so far rejected populist appeals for a complete lockdown over concerns for Pakistan’s poverty stricken segments, a new crisis seems to be brewing next door in India which has been projected by many to be the next major epicenter for Covid 19 in the coming times.