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March 31, 2020

Role of political parties in corona crisis

National

March 31, 2020

Pakistan’s mainstream political parties havehave missed an opportunity to rise above politics and unite to fight 'coronavirus pandemic.' Last week, they failed to evolve a joint strategy and all the efforts of Speaker, National Assembly, Mr Asad Qaiser went in vain. Tragically, they did not show political maturity required to bury the past (atleast for time being) till the crisis is over. The post virus scenario is uncertain. The pandemic will have far-reaching consequences on our economy, social añd political fabric. Only time will tell who was on the right side of history and took the right decision at the right time.

I am sure one man who was utterly disappointed from the outcome was none other than the Speaker himself because he had atleast succeeded in bringing Prime Minister Imran Khan, opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to discuss, though not across the table, thethe crisis through 'video link.' PM could have cancelled his other other engagement instead of just leaving the conference after making his speech. This led to the walkout of Shahbaz and Bilawal, who could have also stayed back after registering their protest. Now it is up to people to fight the 'virus' with a simple message: it is at our 'doorstep,' and it is up to us to open the door and let the virus inin or stay at home to prevent it.

As if it was not enough, the PM, while replying to a question the other day during the selective meeting with some senior journalists and anchors, had hinted that he didn't want to talk to those who had 'looted' the money and were involved in money laundering. This statement in itself vindicated the apprehension of the opposition that despite their goodwill gesture for a national cause, the PM was not ready to reciprocate.

Perhaps, the leadership not well aware of the crisis ahead. Yes, the death toll duedue to virus is still not as alamaring as it is in Europe or the US, but the rising number of virus victims is a matter of concern. We can still learn from how China recovered from Wuhan, provided we want to learn.

The writ of the government and the state eroded when they could not fully enforce their decisions of not allowing people's gathering, and reached consensus on 'lockdown'. They delayed some decisions, which should have been taken after Wuhan crisis unfolded. These decisions should have been followed by closing all borders and transport for two weeks. There is still a danger that more people have been infected than those in the hospital. The news that over 2,500 who came from abroad and belong to KP, are missing and their mobile phones were also switched off is alarming.

Reports that people are getting frustrated in quarantine and trying to escape also alarming and the suggestion of Monis Elahi to confine the infected people to their homes instead of other places unless they are critically ill.

Even more alarming is the crisis which is the emerging human tragedy of labourers on daily wages. This could have been addressed more effectively even without much government support if a consensus was evolved among the political and religious parties. They can now do on their own from their respective platform but a united effort would have brought better results.

These parties -- the ruling PTI, the PML-N and the PPP with other parties represent vast majority. If they engaged all their MNAs, MPAs and local bodies representatives, each one taking responsibility of his or her own constituency to look after the poor without even government or administrative resources, we still could have performed better. After all, they spent millions during their election campaign. Just look at the strength of the National Assembly, the four Provincial Assemblies and the LB, from counsellors to the Mayor or Administrators -- it is in thousands as combined force.

The federal government and the prime minister should play the lead role beyond party consideration since three out of four provinces have PTI or its backed coalition government. Sindh is the only province where government belongs to PPP which is in opposition at the centre. The PM could not utter even a few words of appreciation for the Sindh government.Prime Minister, Imran Khan, who is also the Chairman of PTI, has now decided to engage his party cadre, and for the first time on Sunday, formalized strategy to make the 'Coronavirus Tiger Force' involving the youth. From political perspective its not a bad move provided it is enforced effectively. But if this force worked separately there is every chance of clash of interest between them and party's elected representatives. Secondly, how the three provincial governments which have announced billions of rupees in the name of 'relief package' would work in a transparent manner as we all know the functioning of our administration and bureaucracy.

The other parties like PML-N, PPP, ANP, and MQM (Pakistan) can also mobilise their activists and elected representative to take responsibility of their respective areas to feed the poor. If they could spent money in their own election campaign, it is time to respond to people's need. We have committed a few glaring mistakes to prevent the virus. But, now it is there and not much is lost. The State and the government just need to establish its writ and parties need to play a responsible role.

We as a nation can still defeat the pandemic if we just act and behave like a nation. (The writer is a senior columnist and analyst for GEO, The News and jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO)