TWO separate events in as many days have spawned hopes of closer coordination between Islamabad and the provinces, as well as the central government and the opposition political parties, in the country’s fight against the rapid spread of the coronavirus infection. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan rightly argued that no government could defeat the pandemic on its own. There was also little room for disagreement with him when he told a conference of parliamentary leaders of various political parties via video link that the war against the deadly virus had to be won collectively as a nation. Although he stuck to his previous stand that Pakistan could not afford to impose curfew as an extreme social-distancing measure because of its potentially adverse impact on the poor and those workers whose livelihood depends on daily wages, he indicated his willingness to discuss every suggestion that the opposition political parties would want to put on the table to successfully fight off the disease and minimise its impact on the nation’s economy. This was a departure from the past, although the prime minister’s all too brief appearance caused consternation among opposition leaders. Mr Khan also said he planned to discuss his reservations regarding the impact of the shutdown and the suspension of intercity transport by the provinces on the economy and the poor segments of the population at a National Coordination Committee meeting today. One hopes that the meeting helps bridge the differences between the centre and provinces over a lockdown strategy to control the spread of the infection and improves coordination between them.
The other related development was the organisation of a multiparty conference held a day earlier at the call of the PPP. It was indeed a step forward in the efforts being made to bring all political forces together in the country’s war against the deadly virus that has already infected over 1,000 people in the country besides killing reportedly eight people. Additionally, the virus has imposed massive costs on an already struggling economy and jobs. The moot called for devising a national action plan with mutual consultation so that all political forces could jointly fight the battle against the coronavirus.
The participation of the political allies of the ruling PTI in the conference showed the extent to which politicians of all hues are missing a mechanism that could ensure coordination and facilitate the exchange of proposals between the ruling party and the opposition. The need for a political consensus to deal with the Covid-19 challenge cannot be overstated in the present situation. If there is a time to rise above political differences and parochial divisions, it is now. Pakistan like the rest of the world is in a state of war. And no politically divided nation has ever emerged victorious from a crisis, even of a much smaller magnitude than the present one.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2020