Sindh-centre tension

Published May 6, 2020

THE centre-Sindh spat refuses to ebb away.

It has now been more than nine weeks since the first Covid-19 patient was diagnosed, but Pakistan is still struggling to find a national direction in its fight against the virus.

The reason, unfortunately, is rather clear: politics has trumped prudence.

The Sindh government was the fastest in its response to the deadly virus, and this triggered a strange political dynamic whereby the PTI leadership started looking at the threat through a partisan lens.

For its part, the PPP government in Sindh became even more aggressive in its efforts, buoyed no doubt by the welcome praise it started to garner from the media and public at large.

By March, the concept of lockdown had become a divisive issue whereas it needed to be dealt with purely as a public health strategy requiring coordination between the centre and all the provinces.

Since then, it was been downhill in terms of Pakistan’s effort against the scourge of the coronavirus.

The result has been a needless controversy that has soiled the national atmosphere at a time when what we really needed was solidarity and cohesion.

Every day brings forth a new slanging match between ministers of the PTI and PPP, with mutual accusations flying back and forth and diluting focus on the real threat.

Both governments admit this acrimony isn’t serving anyone’s purpose and yet such is the zero-sum nature of our politics that no one can knock heads together and make them see sense.

The downward spiral appears unstoppable.

The cost of this avoidable bickering is a steep one.

Confused messaging on the lockdown — mainly because the federal and Sindh governments disagreed on the need for it — has led to a weakened impact of the lockdown itself.

The endless quarrel on whether a lockdown is good or bad led to many stakeholders and lobbies jumping into the debate for their vested interests, thereby further complicating matters and sowing the seeds of doubt in people’s minds.

Worse, this debate became a PTI vs PPP binary whereas it should have been all about the impact on suppressing the spread of the infection.

Yet no lessons seem to have been learnt.

This bitter partisan wrangling at the time of a national crisis is now infecting other areas of governance.

The threat of a locust attack and our response to it is also falling victim to such wrangling.

It is very unfortunate that the top leadership of the parties is unable to put a stop to this bitter duelling and close ranks against a common threat.

As we enter a crucial phase in the struggle against the virus, it is still not too late for Islamabad and Sindh to rise above their partisan interests and form a united front against Covid-19.

The stakes could not be higher.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2020

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