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Our treatment of them

Updated March 29, 2019

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

IT got to a point where the newspaper started smelling like a hospital.

It is difficult to say when was the last time the healthcare system in the country came under such deep, relentless, and most importantly, meaningful scrutiny, with the aim to get to a solution rather than wander around in vain.

This was not about the millions who are left at the mercy of the half-prepared messiahs in charge of your public-sector and privately run hospitals. This was not about the kind that would attract little beyond an emergency raid by a (former) chief justice keen on embarrassing anyone or everyone in his wake. This was serious.

Also read: Doctors in democracy

It is one thing to have privilege and quite another to flaunt it in the face of the motley crowd. And it is altogether a new level when you make an unending national exhibition of a privilege.

For days, the media, with the help of doctors (who are inherently always opposed to agreeing with their ilk) and egged on by sworn political cadres, focused on just how efficient and how modern — or how lacking in efficiency and currency or, indeed, how controversial or divisive — the medical treatment facilities available to one patient in privileged Lahore can turn out to be.

This was not about the millions who are left at the mercy of the half-prepared messiahs in charge of hospitals.

And if this aspect about this much-favoured city and our love for equality were not enough of an eye-opener, more disclosures were in store. Finally, we learnt that it was possible for someone with the right intent to actually enter the system of a reputed laboratory and fiddle with blood test reports.

Yes, the news is that if you have the desire, you might find ways of tampering with medical reports. One is hoping that the info does not reach those who lost an opportunity to work abroad only because their tests showed that they were not healthy enough. Or maybe some of them knew already and managed to find a way out despite the adverse pathological picture pulling them back.

We could have been on to a story there. This ‘finding’ about forged reports could well have led to some kind of an inquiry into the possibilities of the desperate common man faking the outcome of his clinical tests, but nothing of the sort happened. By then, the subject, Mian Nawaz Sharif, had moved out and did not inspire any more debate on the failing healthcare standards.

Not just that, as is true for all remedies for all politicians in all parties in Pakistan who must rely on those immediately around them, it was decided that he be taken to his own hospital — the Sharif Medical City — just a healthy walk from his Jati Umra estate.

The lawyers may continue to debate and marvel at how the former prime minister managed to escape this one but the general public would heave a sigh of relief at having completed this mandatory lap in politics. The people you come across in your daily routine insist that they knew that Mian Sahib was destined to come out of jail ‘soon’. No jail wall in the country was thick enough to keep a former prime minister of his reputation, who claimed in the presence of a large number of followers that he had been done in by a false case.

There was relief for everyone in this reprieve for Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. Only some, such as PTI politicians, wouldn’t want to openly admit it. They have, hopefully, saved the exercise where they had to deliver tirades laden with the choicest lines to prove that either Mian Sahib was faking his illness or he could be cured with just one dose of medicine from your local medical practitioner down the street.

With the shift of the former prime minister from his successful dharna in Kot Lakhpat jail, there are hopes that Pakistani politics will also move on to the next topic. This is another phase that we have to go through before we can perhaps move away from the subject of individual privileges that have held national politics hostage for so many months since the PTI arrived in power.

Maybe no one in the country is as relieved as Mr Asif Ali Zardari. A man always on the brink, he now knows that there are certain types of Pakistani citizens who can be allowed to emerge out of state-hosted confinement to seek treatment at the place of their choice.

The Sharif camp is making noises that could lead to some kind of a drive later on. A day after Mian Sahib’s release on bail, MNA Ayaz Sadiq told the people of his constituency that it had become impossible to work with the government. A channel quoted him as saying that the PML-N was ready to work with the opposition — which would obviously include the PPP.

The point brought home by Mr Sadiq’s very timely remarks was contrary to the perception according to which Mian Sahib’s release on bail would create a divide between him and the PPP. The initial signs are that his release will not shift the former prime minister away from the PPP leaders who are so keen to court the PML-N leadership in this, as usual, crucial stage in national politics.

It was a widespread perception that a Nawaz Sharif out of prison on bail would be mindful of not making excessively friendly overtures to an Asif Zardari out to avoid jail. On the surface, maybe, the head of the still strong Sharif clan of power politicians may continue to be silent on most things, including ties with the PPP. But below the surface, some kind of an understanding has developed to overtake the suspicions that the PML-N and the PPP are known to have for each other. All signs are that the two parties fear that the beasts of accountability let loose on them are not going to relent anytime soon.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2019