THE coronavirus took us by surprise.
And yet, Pakistan is finally fighting back. Governments are marshalling their forces to salvage the situation before it spirals out of control. In this time of acute crisis, there are some politicians and officials who deserve recognition for their efforts against heavy odds. In no particular order, here then are some leaders fighting the good fight against an unseen enemy:
Dr Zafar Mirza: As the face of the national effort against the virus, Dr Mirza has been active on the front lines since the early days. He has done well to coordinate all efforts from the centre while the provinces manage the operational issues within their domain. He has galvanised the health ministry on a war footing and has also played a leading role in communicating information to citizens. Dr Zafar Mirza projects a calm and composed presence required at a time when citizens have genuine cause for worry.
Murad Ali Shah: This crisis has brought into sharp focus the leadership of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. Hitherto perceived as lording over a corrupt and inefficient government, the last few months have seen Murad Ali Shah finding his rhythm. He judged the enormity of the crisis first, he leapt into action first, he took difficult decisions first and he galvanised the entire provincial machinery first. The results are there for all to see. In a matter of weeks, he has succeeded in transforming the image of his government and his party.
Here are some leaders fighting the good fight.
Murtaza Wahab: One of the keys to Sindh’s impressive performance has been the swift, upfront, clear and transparent relaying of information. Enter Murtaza Wahab. As the young aide of the chief minister, he has set a new bar for effective communication at a time when such communication translates into informed policy and wise choices. Through all media platforms, Murtaza Wahab has unleashed a torrent of timely communication that has amplified the actions of the Sindh government.
Dr Azra Pechuho: One reason for Sindh’s good performance is that the team clicked at the right moment. While the chief minister brings his decisive style and Murtaza Wahab his communication excellence, Dr Azra Pechuho has added the political weight that is required to push things through and get them done. She is the provincial health minister and also the sister of PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari. She has been a constant presence along with the chief minister and on the forefront in terms of policy and operations.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra: The young health minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has become the face of his government’s fight against the virus. Jhagra’s strong performance has manifested itself via two key approaches: first, he has tackled the challenge methodically by combining solid knowledge, plenty of data and an analytical approach to problem-solving. Second, he has communicated extremely well.
Usman Buzdar: The Punjab chief minister has surprised people by his active approach to the challenge. Like most leaders, he started slow, but over time he seems to have grasped the enormity of the threat and moved swiftly to energise and invigorate the Punjab government’s battle against the virus. Punjab needed to see a person in control and the chief minister has done well to fit into the role. His visibility has gone high as he is seen chairing meetings, making decisions, speaking to the media, visiting hospitals and other field locations and generally seen to be getting a strong grip on the situation. He appears to be rising to the occasion and could emerge stronger from the crisis.
Jam Kamal: The Taftan controversy pushed the Balochistan government into a defensive mode but since then Chief Minister Jam Kamal has moved swiftly to get the provincial machinery into proactive mode. This is easier said than done. However, the chief minister has used his strengths as an active doer with excellent communication skills to deliver services in these difficult times. It helps that he is digitally savvy.
Dr Sania Nishtar: As head of the multi-billion rupee Ehsaas programme, Dr Sania Nishtar has not only been trusted by Prime Minister Imran Khan with his flagship initiative, she is also stitching together the key ingredient of the federal government’s policy on the virus: getting cash relief to the weakest segments of the population during the lockdown days. She has impressed with her quiet strength and professionalism in the face of tremendous pressures of responsibility, and often also from PTI MNAs.
Dr Arif Alvi: The president of Pakistan has little executive powers, but in the corona crisis, President Alvi has shown initiative where it was needed most: building a consensus within the ulema to urge citizens to avoid religious congregations and mosques. He also reached out to the Al Azhar University authorities in Egypt for relevant fatwas. He has been a sane and comforting voice during these difficult times.
Mian Shahbaz Sharif: Though he holds no executive office, the former chief minister of Punjab who is widely acknowledged for his superior governance has played an active role in the crisis as leader of the opposition. Ever since his return from the UK, he has been hyperactive in crafting policy options, galvanising various groups and relaying correct messages to the citizens. He has also struck a good balance between offering support to the government and critiquing it for lackadaisical performance at the federal level. He has also infused fresh energy into the PML-N.
Siraj-ul-Haq: The ameer of the Jamaat-i-Islami has shown strong leadership by taking initiatives for interfaith harmony during this crisis. On his orders, the JI has undertaken disinfection campaign in churches, temples and gurdwaras. The party has also provided food rations to vulnerable populations, and in a much-appreciated gesture, reached out to the transgender community to help them in these difficult times.
These women and men are putting in their best at a time when their services are needed the most. Their success will be our success. It is, however, a long road ahead.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020