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Coronavirus VS Politics

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Ajwa Hijazi

From the past two months, like the rest of the world, Pakistan is also combating the grave challenge being posed by the novel COVID19 or also known as the coronavirus. With the crumbling health care facilities, limited testing kits and PPEs the overall response of the system towards the corona is not that bad as it could have been. Since 26th February when the first two patients were identified in the country, one in Islamabad and the other in Karachi, the federal and the provincial governments pulled their socks up to formulate the relevant response programs and measures quite aggressively. But like any other issue that emerges on the landscape of our country, coronavirus was also surrounded by the endless political entanglements and debates. With the government of PPP in Sindh and the federal government of PTI things got quite heated up as the situation of coronavirus evolved in the country.

There has been constant blame game between the provincial government of Sindh and the federal government where the latter is being alleged of not doing enough for the provinces in term of equipment and the money.

Amid this political tug war, the governments at the provincial and the central level have been failed to impose the lockdown properly.With the growing intensity of the COVID19, the synchronization and ample coordination between the federal and provincial governments was need of the hour. But unfortunately, the situation at hand depicts that the current state of the affairs is the result of anything but cooperation and harmony.

Since the inception of the 18th constitutional amendment in 2010, the health has been provincial subject but during this ongoing crisis emerged after the outbreak of coronavirus in Pakistan the devastating situation of healthcare system has been witnessed across the board. It tells that still  after the transfer of the power from the central government to the provincial government , the provincial governments have not been able to revamp the infrastructure of health in their respective provinces let alone increase the efficiency of the service delivery in that particular arena. When the Sindhgovernment announced complete lockdown in the initial days of the crisis, federal government and the other three provinces were in the favor of the partial lockdown, but they went ahead. And that complete lockdown turned out to be ill planed and then the provincial government in Sindh also had to resort to the national policy of the partial lockdown that is being followed by the rest of the provinces.

For joint decision making and policy guidelines, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) has been established as the arm of the National Core Committee (NCC) that is the leading entity of the government in its combat against the pandemic of the coronavirus. The NCOC was formed as the bridge between the federal and the provincial governments on the policy issues and along with that it was also created as a platform for the issuance of the unanimous decisions on the matters related to the corona virus.

But regrettably, what is being exhibited is the plain exercise of the politics between the federal government and the provincial government of Sindh. At a time where the political harmony should be mandatory for all the politicians regardless of their party lines, political leaders are bickering over past mistakes and blunders. The hope of the national consensus is being suppressed by the urge of the country’s top leadership to do politics even at the time of the universal crisis. Instead of formulating the national consensus on the discourse related to the corona, politicians are busy in pulling each other’s leg on almost every decision being taken. The pronouncements that are being taken in the national command and operation center are the result of the joint discussions between the chief ministers and the bureaucracy of all the four provinces along with Gilgit Baltistan and IOJK but right after the press briefing of the collective decisions taken by the NCOC , whether on the lockdown or on any issue related to the testing, there is the wave of political dialogues and point scoring especially from the official representatives of Sindh and federal government. And that environment of political point scoring masks the impression of the national coherence that is manifested in the creation of the joint command and operation center.

The arguments and counter arguments draw the impression as if the decisions related novel coronavirus are being imposed onto the provincial governments by Islamabad. but that is not the case. The most recent example is when the decision to extend the ongoing lockdown was taken in the third week of the April, the government of Sindh acted surprised as if they were unaware that this decision was coming but actually the Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was presented all along the meeting when the decision was being taken. On the other hand, Prime Minister has been seen saying that after the 18th amendment the provinces are authorized to take whatever decision they think is suitable to counter the spread of the coronavirus. But with each passing day the backlashing and counter arguments are increasing.

Recently, things got heated up when there was press conference by the doctors of Pakistan Medical Association, in which they demanded imposition of strict lockdown by the government. to which Shahbaz Gill, unofficial focal person to PM, replied with the accusation of Sindh Government behind this act to mount pressure on the federal government. This was obviously rebutted by the spokesperson of the Sindh government, Murtaza Wahab. Besides that the constant political sarcasm on one another upon the establishment of corona relief funds, that is formed by both governments, is nothing but quite unfortunate on the part of both the federal and the provincial governments.

The issuance of no criticism policy would benefit the national harmony and also  somehow lower the political polarization that has been  penetrated so much in our society that even during a pandemic the blame game and political point scoring is at all times high. This lack of the national unity would be catastrophic for the 220 million people in coming days. The political parties across the board need to rise above their political millage as the nation is heading towards the tense and tough times, in the context of the COVOID-19, in the upcoming days.