Tuesday May 24, 2022

Missing national strategy

April 08, 2020

The true test of leadership, both in treasury and in opposition, is weighted during national crises and disasters, such as in wars, pandemics or earthquakes and major floods.

In Pakistan, the first Covid-19 case was reported in February and since then there has been widespread national chaos and confusion over very important issues to deal with the contagion.

Concerning the lockdown, multiple confusing messages were sent across the country. The prime minister was talking differently than the Sindh government and Balochistan was a silent spectator while the Corona floodgate was open at Taftan. Punjab was looking at the center for decisions. The National Disaster Management Authority was missing from the scene.

It’s really disappointing and sometimes frustrating that as a parliamentarian even I am unable to reference any national document or strategy that points out a systematic and consolidated national approach to address the Corona crisis.

The national leadership, in such critical times, plays a significant role to exalt national confidence, minimize fear and pain and ensure the smooth running of national affairs – and brings together all stakeholders, notwithstanding their political and local differences. They encourage consensus decision-making through formal institutions, such as regional and national parliaments, Council of Common Interests, inter-provincial coordination committees, to discuss and chalk out national strategies.

Such consonance strategy desires a national level of understanding and sacrifices. Decisions that affect established norms and routines can’t be easily introduced without national unity and formulation of policies through legitimate national forums. Decisions such as border closures, lockdowns, re-appropriation of national resources and elevating public confidence demand legitimate and unified decision-making processes.

Developing a practical national narrative and strategy is only possible when the national leadership disregards political differences, develops regional and local level coordination, works in tandem with all stakeholders to contain the pandemic and also ensures immediate level of relief, minimizes economic impact and guarantees smooth functioning of social and political system.

The most important steps that would have helped develop a national narrative and consensus national strategy vis a vis corona was to immediately hold an inter-provincial ministerial conference or meeting of the Council of Common Interests.

The overall goal of Pakistan’s strategic preparedness and response plan should have been discussed in the IPCC, CCI and National Security meetings with regular updates and consultation with national leadership through parliamentary committees, or parliament sessions.

The strategy and national decisions would then have larger legitimacy and acceptance at the grassroots level. Unified stratagem would have proposed strict measures such as lockdown at the national level to limit human-to-human transmission, including reducing secondary infections among close contacts and healthcare workers, preventing transmission amplification events, and preventing further national spread in the post-Taftan and international context.

While such extraordinary decisions are taken at the national level by the national leadership, sitting around the table, sharing and discussing ideas, respecting each other's perspectives, understanding local and grassroots level challenges would have automatically strengthened nation confidence to fight against pandemic.

In addition, to national confidence building, Pakistan as a developing country holds a massive share of poor people relying on day to day businesses. A national strategy along with political, logistic, security concerns would have shared resources and ideas to come up with a national relief package for vulnerable and marginalized.

Such a national strategy would have set clear special operating procedures for all provinces dealing with the outbreak, containment and treatment procedures and ensuring best available care for corona victims. Since such a national plan and strategy are missing, the issue of identifying, isolating and providing optimized care for infected patients is questioned in all provinces.

Most pandemics are accompanied with an ‘infodemic’, and the 2019-nCoV outbreak and response is no different. There are mixed messages and even confused messages circulated by government officials and so-called experts about the extent of the crisis.

The over-abundance of information and misinformation is creating widespread fear and at the same time over-confidence in communities. A component of ‘risk communication’ would have been part and parcel of a national strategy to project critical risk and event information to all communities, and counter misinformation.

More importantly, a national strategy would have had an economic component proposing measures and plans to minimize social and economic impact through multi-sectoral dialogue and engagement with industrialists, traders, farmers and small and medium entrepreneurs.

Few provinces in Pakistan have sufficient resources and expertise including proactive leadership to calmly handle things. But Balochistan is in a state of shock, with limited expertise, sluggish leadership where the crisis has taken a chaotic turn and created a wide vacuum and confusion.

In a national level strategy such shortcomings, gaps, incapacities and leadership challenges would have been discussed and alternative forums would have been introduced and formed to ensure more robust and timely crisis management actions.

There are many other critical aspects that could have been incorporated to develop a wise and practical national response to the Corona crisis. But unfortunately, over a month has passed, and not a single national level meeting has been organized to transmit a unified picture of national leaders or a united message to boost the morale of the terrified and famished people of Pakistan.

It is time for Pakistan’s national leadership to rethink before it's too late.

The writer is a member of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly, and former Senator.



Twitter: @Senator_Baloch