The trend will continue — bring in the tested old to push through with the new
As with every passing year, a lot seems to have fallen into perspective for most people, with the end of 2020. A year marked by a global pandemic also brought ingenuity, innovation and introspection, as much as it did hardship and suffering. Thought leaders predict that our lifestyles have now changed forever — from transport to shopping to the environment. In some ways, the same can be said about governance in Pakistan. Mostly, though, going into 2021, it is a continuation of hybrid approaches across the local and national spectrum.
At the heart of the new data-driven approach is the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) in Islamabad. It is a consolidation of several civilian and military setups that came together to fill a glaring void in data collection and effective policy implementation. According to Taha Tariq, who as part of the Lahore-based Checkbox Media is a member of the Ministry of Health’s communications team, this gap was very quickly identified as initial ad hoc approaches to deal with the early spread of the virus, including mimicking other countries produced little positive results. By using existing civilian structures of the Polio Eradication Programme, as well as the military outreach of the National Disaster Management Authority, the government came up with an effective hybrid command centre that stymied the spread of the virus.
Lahore opted for a similar empirical approach after an initial lockdown that had nothing ‘smart’ about it. The city district now identifies cases in relation to population density to check for severity of spread, and devises localised lockdowns to mitigate losses. Follow-ups in 2021 include analysing the efficacy of such interventions, the data of which will establish a system that will now be in place for any health (or otherwise) emergency in future.
The precedent of such knowledge-based approaches can also be attributed to Dr Umar Saif, the city’s prodigal son who blazed a trail as head of the PITB during the previous provincial government’s tenure, and was removed when the incumbents took office. One of his hallmark achievements was making use of cellphones and technology to bring the dengue epidemic under control. Ironically, the previous administration’s man largely set the tone for this government’s initiatives, and was even called upon to help when the virus wreaked havoc during the first wave in June. This trend will continue — bring in the tested old to push through with the new.
Another hybrid that, notwithstanding bureaucratic and structural headwinds, I foresee being implemented in the New Year is the Medical Teaching Institutions (MTI) Act that was recently passed by the Punjab Assembly. It places public hospitals in Lahore under the largely private-sector dominated boards of governors, a policy that the local and provincial governments have doggedly pursued despite all antagonism.
The city district now identifies coronavirus cases in relation to population density to check for severity of spread, and devises localised lockdowns to mitigate losses. Follow-ups in 2021 include analysing the efficacy of such interventions, the data of which will establish a system that will now be in place for any health (or otherwise) emergency in future.
Amongst many other promised reforms, the health secretary will be disinherited of budgeting powers which individual hospitals will now exercise using data-driven methods. This is likely to be contested by deeply entrenched, vested powers, but the stubbornness of the rulers is expected to upend the old system and usher in the new hybrid.
All this is not to brandish the incumbents with a halo. After all, the breaking of a wave doesn’t explain the whole sea, and the story of hybrids is not only about synergies and beneficial symbiotic relationships; it is also a sordid tale of impurity and expedient compromises. Much has been said about the government’s pivot to have data and science trump politics and hearsay, but Lahore in November was witness to a momentous surrender of this incipient ‘new normal’ at the classic old altar of politics, when mandatory Covid SOPs were forgone for the mammoth funeral of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a man whose words were barred from being carried on the airwaves but who, in death, commanded enough clout to wring out condolences from the prime minister, the Punjab chief minister and the chief of army staff. This is where you see the hybrid state functioning in full view, a dithering city and a state at odds with itself, experiencing bouts of a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, unable and unwilling to rid itself of invidious contaminants.
That this city of saints who proselytised through love and embrace has capitulated to those who spew venom and commit calumny is peak hybridisation for Lahoris. That the outlaws now beat the pious is a regrettable precedent for this city of enlightenment. In the absence of a city ready to reclaim its lost soul and where the moderates have no irredentist strategy, the resurgence of reason is not a dream for 2021.
While these hybrid hierarchies set their plinths in the midst of a pandemic year, in 2021 they’ll strengthen further and possibly fructify. You will see them in action everywhere — from the new education curriculum that will be taught across the schools of Lahore, a mix of secular liberalism and Islamic history and compliance, to the much-touted new city of the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project (RRUDP), a shiny clean project which has also now allowed
filth-producing old industrial and residential establishments in its midst that it was pining to get away from.
Most starkly of all, it will rear its tawdry head in the structural hierarchies of the system — a city government, bereft of the local that is really run from the provincial government’s podium, a provincial government unable to discern itself from the federal establishment, and a federal body that is frequently seen in camouflage suits with the full panoply of ranks and epaulettes. In 2021, there is nothing to presage that these hybrids are going anywhere.
The author is a lecturer of politics at the University of London undergraduate programme at TMUC, Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected]