The veils come off

12 Jun 2020


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

WHAT Covid-19 has done is that it has allowed various players on stage to speak with a justified lack of empathy from behind the security of the mask. The government had to lead the pack of cold-blooded actors. The tradition continues in the able hands of the prime minister’s adviser on health. But the others are also doing their best to keep emotions out of it.

In its latest sign of maturity, Pakistan has acted like a patient who might consult the doctor over a dire affliction but is not bound by the course suggested in the prescription. Dr Zafar Mirza appears to favour a network of consumers over a simple collection of people, complete with its sneezing, coughing members.

Currently, the most visible prime ministerial aide knows it is xWHO’s job to forewarn and put the fear of the pandemic in a country’s heart. The clinching knowledge is that it is for the responsible rulers of a particular land — as opposed to, say, a group of tribal elders fighting against an immunisation campaign — to decide how much of the advice they actually want to heed.

This, among other things, should solve the puzzle. This should make you understand why high-flying international technocrats, those who have worked with global organisations for the collective uplift of human life around the world, settle for national postings later in life. A country is where the real power lies — power to implement or reject counsel from however respectable and world renowned a source.

The compromise formula of intermittent lockdowns is still not acceptable to those who arbitrate between our lives and livelihoods.

The World Health Organisation might have come up with its Pakistan line after going through this essential exercise aimed at providing a proposal with the right balance. It must have quickly made its own economy vs health calculations before sending the note urgently across to Pakistanis, who, by all signs and figures, were in a precarious situation. The compromise formula of intermittent lockdowns to contain the spread of Covid-19 is still not acceptable to those who arbitrate between our lives and livelihoods.

The federal aide says the health lens is not what the country would want to see the situation through now — just as he and his partners had rejected the idea earlier. Perhaps he was the perfect person to make pronouncements in a country where the focus is on those who cannot or do not want, rather than those with a will and a wish but not always the wherewithal, to do a job according to the brief. Adviser sahib leaves the medical corps under him and Pakistanis at large to deal with the devils in the WHO letter describing our predicament.

Like the WHO, local doctors working at a safe distance from the policymakers in Islamabad are extremely worried about the fast spread of Covid-19. They have come far from the moment when they thought they could force the government to give due weight to their concerns. Doctors and sections of the press were once together in the drive to convince the government to give lockdown a serious thought but the two have gone their separate ways since.

Sections of the press may still be inclined to vent their ire on an unresponsive government. They may do it by resorting to vengeful acts such as comparing Pakistani rulers to their caricatured counterparts in Brazil and Russia and England. The doctors have a more pressing job. They have lives to save.

Doctors in hospitals are fighting as foot soldiers, the most expendable variety, followed by security personnel and law enforcers and, not to be left behind, journalists. Perhaps it is because of the influence of the season of disease that some doctors with absolutely crucial roles are found to do it with the coldness of a hangman — at the risk of adding to the scare rather than alleviating it.

The governments — federal and provincial — never tire of telling the people that the healthcare system in place is quite capable of withstanding the challenge thrown up by Covid-19. One of the most important questions has centred on the availability of ventilators. Government spokespersons appear on television every 15 minutes with the latest count of ventilators ready for patients, only for the worthy opposition politicians to then dispute them.

This is a routine that has been followed where respectable commentators give vent to their feelings — only for a couple of very honourable members of the medical corps to one day turn up and pronounce the much-hyped vent as an object whose efficacy had been blown out of proportion.

In their eagerness to promote plasma donation by recovered Covid-19 patients, one of the two doctors was more or less guilty of snatching from a seriously ill patient his last ray of hope. It would be giving ugliness a face if his words were to be repeated. Suffice it to say that he crossed all limits in trying to persuade potential donors that plasma therapy was the final cure here.

In all likelihood, doctors with their dark proclamations will escape without a rap on their knuckles in this season of veils that tend to conceal all kinds of intents, good and bad — in the popular book, more vile, since rumours continue to spin the most horrifying images.

The two lenses — isn’t it always like this? Aren’t we always forced to view and weigh the two often contrasting pictures, our poverty forever determining how lowly and sickly our population ‘ranks’ on the global ladder we have no escape from?

The good intentions of the WHO and others towards us can be reciprocated with a thanks but no thanks gesture. Meanwhile, we can celebrate the good news that our masters by virtue of our total submission to the prescription provided by the other lens have allowed a freeze on energy bill tariffs until October. Yes a relief for a full few months.

The intriguing part is that we have not even begun to explore the possibility of a third angle over and above these two lenses.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2020