IT is a strangely conflicted Eid today. The threat of Covid-19 is degraded significantly but at a cost measured in thousands of lives. It is a day of relief for those of us who are spared from the virus, or recovered from it, but a time of mourning for those who lost loved ones in the months past. It is a day of satisfaction for those who led the battle against coronavirus and saw their efforts bear promising results, but a time of grief for the families of those front-line medical warriors who saved lives but lost theirs in the line of duty. But perhaps above all, it is a day of reflection, of gratitude, and of prayers to the Almighty Allah SWT for sparing us from a far bigger disaster.
These are tough times in more ways than one. The economic squeeze has spared no one. The pain of jobs lost, incomes slashed, expenses hiked and inflation spiked is here to stay for a while. The virus compounded misery, and its dilution may provide a sense of relief — but relief is a subjective word during times of stress. The strangely quiet days of Eid may be a luxury we have earned over the last few months, but the task at hand remains a steep one.
It has been made steeper still by the shenanigans of politicians witnessed inside parliament this last week. The zero sum game played by people from both sides of the aisle in a bid to conjure up some agreement on bills pertaining to the FATF and NAB laws has reinforced the perception of dysfunctionality prevailing within the legislative realm. The poison of partisanship has seeped deep and wide. It is difficult to visualise the standard norms of democracy — civil dialogue, functional relationships, basic minimum level of mutual respect — coming into play any time soon. Rivalry has spilled over into hatred.
Eid provides us an opportunity to step back from this toxic environment.
This loathing will be on display today. When families and friends get together to meet and greet; when strangers embrace each other in a spirit of Muslim sisterhood and brotherhood; and when colleagues, co-workers and acquaintances wish each other Eid Mubarak, Pakistani political leaders will trample these religious and cultural niceties under the hoofs of partisan contempt. The prime minister will not send a personal greeting to the leader of the opposition, cabinet ministers will not wish opposition frontbenchers on this auspicious day and the lack of reciprocity is also fairly guaranteed. It is a sign of the depths to which our political culture has fallen that essential human decency and civility — emphasised so much in our religious and cultural norms — have been sacrificed at the altar of petty politics.
Anger, bitterness and negativity sprout forth every day on the media. The deluge of abuse flows thick with the toxic waste of political animosity. Filth dressed as ideology is splattered across the airwaves to contaminate minds and adulterate thoughts.
The impact is dreadfully sad. Loathing trickles down from the pulpit of politics and seeps into social layers below. Revulsion is worn like a badge of honour; hostility rewarded; and contempt accepted as a preferred social norm. All these vile sentiments — on display so prominently this week in parliament — dilute the purity of Eid’s joy and pollute the festiveness of the occasion with deliberately generated rancour.
Eid provides us an opportunity to step back from this toxic environment for a few days and rejuvenate the spirit that defines who we are as Pakistanis united under one flag. It is also an opportune time to thank all those who have braved the rigours of the virus these past five months and finally achieved what looks like early signs of victory. We have much to thank for.
Thank you first to the doctors, nurses, paramedics and all those from the medical community who worked tirelessly to treat the infected among us. The least that the government can do is pay a befitting tribute to those who lost their lives in this battle. There will be a time to discuss things that went wrong and lamentations that went unheeded, but on this Eid let us all salute our front-line warriors for their courage and diligence.
Thank you to the team at NCOC — led by Planning Minister Asad Umar and chief coordinator Lt Gen Hamood Uz Zaman Khan — that led the fight against the virus with methodological efficiency and operational effectiveness. Asad Umar kept his eye on the ball through uncertain times and provided clear-headed direction when much was unclear about the situation; Gen Hamood provided decisive operational command by mobilising state resources across the country and leveraging institutional capacities to the optimum to battle the virus. There will be a time to review where things could have been done differently, but on this Eid let us extend our thanks to all those who teamed up at NCOC to fight the good fight and deliver results.
Thank you to the leaders of all provinces who cooperated with each other and coordinated efforts aimed at enforcing SOPs and enhancing the capacity of their medical facilities. They were aided ably by their respective administrations and law-enforcement agencies that did a commendable job in implementing lockdowns. There will be a time to question response times and resource management at all levels, but on this Eid let us say thanks to all those in the provinces who did what they could to the best of their abilities despite constraints of the system.
Crucial times lie ahead of this Eid. If we can follow social distancing and take all precautions, we may be able to cross an important hurdle. The hurdles beyond the virus will however demand more than what we have displayed so far. If only we can learn the right lessons.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2020