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March 31, 2020

Need for unity

Editorial

 
March 31, 2020

When nations are faced with as grave a crisis as Covid-19 that has claimed thousands of lives around the world and which is likely to rage for at least a couple of more months, the need for national cohesion and unity can hardly be overemphasized. The deadly virus is not a simple threat anymore, it has become a clear and present danger to world economy and societies are shuddering at the possibility of a complete breakdown of systems across boundaries. For a country such as Pakistan the menace is multiplied manifold, and it is only through a coherent and well-coordinated planning and implementation that we can hope to overcome some of the challenges we face. Already, in our country, we have at least 1,670 cases of corona. Around 700 patients are in various hospitals according to the PM’s health advisor Dr Zafar Mirza; 10 are in critical condition and we already have 21 deaths. At the moment it appears that the federal and provincial governments are working in isolation and without much communication between them.

The one meeting PM Imran Khan attended with the leaders of the opposition parties ended in an unpleasant drop scene when the PM himself spoke at length but then abruptly left the meeting without even listening to any of the opposition leaders’ comments and concerns. To develop national cohesion, a sympathetic ear is needed coupled with a desire to cooperate and help each other. Even sworn political enemies can come together when nations are faced with crises like this. There are at least three dimensions where a national cohesion needs to be developed: one, there is this economic dimension with both external and internal facets. Externally, as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has rightly advised, the government needs support from the IMF and other donors. The federal government must discuss an economic plan of action with the opposition and take them on board as there will be long-term internal ramifications of further borrowing and debt readjustment. The second dimension is political in which all political governments of our federating units must be taken into the loop and kept informed about the steps that are being taken at various tiers of government.

The political governments must be taken on board and all decisions must be taken not by unelected advisers or civil and military bureaucrats, but by the political leadership. The third dimension is the social fabric that must be kept intact and social cohesion must take precedence over all other considerations. Socially speaking there are hundreds or even thousands of philanthropists who are ready and willing to help. The federal and provincial governments should be facilitating such efforts with proper guidelines. Such efforts must be coordinated but not hindered. Let’s hope that with better coordination we are able to get out of these trying times. This is also not a time to engage in politics in the form of framing NAB cases against political opponents. We must recognize that people are in very real danger of dying of starvation. We know that quarantine due to corona is an entirely different matter for the rich and the poor. The poor risk starvation, many of the rich treat it as a vacation. A sense of nationhood has to be created. If we cannot do this now, we will perhaps never succeed.