The Coronavirus Debacle

Source: ARY News

Covid-19 or the disease caused by the Cov-SARS-2 Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. Perhaps but probably a bit too late. It was a bit too late because only then had governments around the world had started to take the threat of the coronavirus epidemic seriously.

The last new year’s eve, I suspected that 2020 would prove to be an ominous year, but never in my wildest imagination could I expect the Chinese authorities to report the first coronavirus case to the WHO on December 31. The outbreak occurred somewhere in November 2019 and was named covid-19, caused by the Cov-SARS-2 virus that closely resembled the virus causing the SARS epidemic in 2003. The Chinese Communist Party initially tried repressing it, even punished the doctor who blew the whistle to alert about the threat. However, the sheer number of casualties and patients went out of hand and soon even a communication ban could not prevent the impact. The world was cautiously and horrifyingly watching the videos of people dragged away to the quarantine. China had dealt with more than one epidemic in the recent past. They probably knew what they were doing or so it seemed.

On March 8, many of us in Pakistan were at the Aurat Azadi March. Many others were attending weddings, religious and political congregations. I knew on the back of my mind that it was dangerous but considering the social and political atmosphere of the country, it had become too important to miss. However, in the retrospect, organizing the march was risky, if not a mistake. The pandemic had reached Pakistan’s borders already and even days later some of the March’s organizers were calling on the government for a shutdown.

Like most populist and conservative governments around the world, the trend we are currently seeing in Brazil and Mexico, the government of Pakistan remained in denial for a long time. The same was true for Italy and Iran. The same was true for Spain and the United States. The same is true for India. Realizing

While Ashraf Ghani was taking oath after getting reelected in Afghanistan in a controversial and close election amid explosions, and while Pakistani people were outraging about Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir attending the inauguration, and while Pakistan was mostly obsessed with Aurat March placards and PSL, the coronavirus had reached Pakistani borders.

On March 9, Pakistan only had 5 cases and nobody in the country was talking about it.

Even nobody in the United States was taking it seriously other than California, the state which probably had the earliest cases.

By this time, the novel coronavirus epidemic had reached disastrous proportions in Iran and Italy, countries which had also remained in denial about the threat. Meanwhile, the outbreak has been largely controlled in South Korea and Singapore, which had a tough February with it. They carried out very aggressive testing after meticulously tracking cases and limiting the infection. Japan followed the same path. Meanwhile, China would still take a couple of weeks to come close to easing an extremely strict shutdown in the Hubei province.

The 5 known cases had entered Pakistan through the Taftan border in Baluchistan from the afflicted province of Qom. These were pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Iran and returning. While many expect the Baluchistan government to handle the quarantine of these pilgrims, their entry and disaster relief was a federal subject, especially considering the funds involved.

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Nevertheless, Dr. Zafar Mirza, visited the Taftan camp on February 28 and expressed his satisfaction over the facilities. Days later, the quarantined patients escaped citing unbearable living and sanitary conditions. Many of them were later subjected to a similar detention camp-like facility in Dera Ghazi Khan. While nobody is necessarily blaming the pilgrims or another religious congregation, and that the pandemic had to find its way in the country in one way or another, the Taftan debacle certainly helped propagate the infection.

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By this time, many of the pilgrims arrived in Sindh and were sent to a quarantine center established in Sukkur. The Sindh Government, perhaps the first among the provincial governments to realize the gravity of the crisis, started pressing the federal government over a nationwide lockdown.

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However, religious groups continued to pose problems for the government, as is evident by the protest of the quarantined pilgrims and violation of protective protocol at the Sukkur Quarantine Center, a feat by the Sindh government usually maligned for incompetence.

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Until March 19, while the Sindh government was making strides to control the coronavirus cases, the Punjab government was still not taking the crisis seriously. The Punjab government was acting as if the infection in Sindh could not reach Punjab, with even its officials ignoring social distancing advice instead of informing the public. As a matter of fact, revelations about the approach of the Punjab Chief Minister created quite a bit of media hype.

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Apart from that, around the same time, the federal government was still wondering about the extent of the problem, while the staff of the largest hospital in Islamabad issued a grave warning about the challenge ahead. Later several doctors in that hospital would get infected and quarantined.

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Around that time, the federal government had completely different priorities, such as shipping cooked desi food to the stranded Pakistani students in Wuhan.

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To add insult to injury, the annual Tableeghi Ijtema at Raiwind near Lahore was to take place for which Muslim missionaries and preaching delegates had arrived from all around the world. It is not like your formal conferences with good accommodation facilities, but an informal gathering with a center of gathering with compromised hygiene and sanitation. Many social and political commentators and media called on the government to ban the congregation but the Punjab government allowed it to happen. Later, the tableeghi jamaat would cause dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of infections in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and even Sindh. Even two positive cases from Gaza Strip are reported to have attended the tableeghi congregation in Pakistan.

After the pandemic status was declared by WHO on March 11, the media had started making noise about the coronavirus threat. It ignited a new debate pressured by certain circles within the media and the Sindh Government on whether to enforce a nationwide lockdown or not. The absence of the Prime Minister in terms of communicating to the nation was also criticized until things got even worse when he did address the nation.

In an address to the nation that could be considered to be misleading the people, he declared that covid-19 was just a form of flu. He did not recommend a lockdown or even appealed to the religious clerics or tableeghi jamaat to suspend their religious congregations, but stressed social distancing and precaution at the same time. All in all, he downplayed the crisis in the manner of any conservative government currently in power around the world without a word to assure the provinces that the federal government was with them.

Misrepresenting the demands of lockdown as effectively a “curfew,” he declared that a complete lockdown was impossible for Pakistan considering a huge number of the population lives below the poverty line. However, despite the risk of people going hungry and out of work and possible food shortages, there was no assurance from the national leader. Even the young Ammar Rashid of the Awami Workers Party had better ideas for the labor and working class.

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It was perhaps this reason that the very next day, the military, Imran Khan’s original installers, had to intervene and announced their own lockdown plan, assuring that the armed force is prepared to take on this crisis. The Punjab government also announced a 14-day lockdown  Either the government was playing good cop, bad cop with the people or the Prime Minister was completely out of touch with the necessary policy for fighting the outbreak.

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The citizen breathed a sigh of relief when his next address had some hope of a relief package, including income relief for the underprivileged. However, that too was plagued with partisanship. While the Prime Minister did the right thing to announce. He kept on insisting that a complete lockdown will be impossible because of. Talking to media in the Prime Minister House, he had earlier implied that the curfew will remain to be the last resort. However, when addressing the nation, he remains to be confused about the lockdown, which is inevitable in the situation and not something anybody is asking for out of pleasure.

Incompetence is one thing, a PTI trait that most people in the country have come to learn by now, but intentional partisan divisiveness in a crisis and misinformation amount to malfeasance. The Prime Minister has repeatedly told the public that the covid-19 pandemic was just like another flu. This was obviously false information that nobody should believe. Here is how covid-19 is different from and more dangerous than flu.

Paradoxically, the confused leader has also repeatedly been appealing people to self-isolate and to maintain social distancing. The only consolation is that his record on public advice was not as atrocious as Boris Johnson, who tested positive for covid-19. Still, Imran Khan’s federal government remained lax on the Friday prayers issue until the provinces were forced to take measures to ban congregations without locking the mosques down.

While we stand firmly behind our government to overcome the pandemic crisis, the least the public can expect from the government is honesty. Unfortunately, most of the innocent people of Pakistan have no clue what kind of a pandemic disaster is potentially threatening their lives. Hardly any country in the world has the means to properly fight this crisis but misleading the public, especially about the protective precautions. And even his solutions such as the “Tiger Force,” a youth recruitment drive to take rations and awareness campaigns to communities, reek of partisan bias and have already been rejected by the opposition.

The government must continue to learn lessons from its mistakes and ensure that the people have supply relief as well as universal basic income delivered to their doorstep.

By the end of March, we have more than 2,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 20 deaths. If we do not take stricter measures, offer a viable channel of aid relief through the military, and do not flatten the curve, we could be waiting for a disaster the likes of which we have never seen before.

Imran Khan and PTI: Fascist and Proud of It

Source: Economic Times

Every time you think Imran Khan cannot get any worse to shock people with his worldview, he goes on to outdo himself. If his hilariously idiotic Medina State rhetoric were not enough, he further embarrassed himself on his recent visit to China.

In his own words, he paid a tribute to the authoritarian Communist regime in China by offering a fresh glimpse into what kind of Medina State he envisions for Pakistan.

Wish I could follow President Xi’s example and put 500 corrupt people in Pakistan in jail.

This is not fiction and it is the kind of statement that his liberal defenders would otherwise attribute his detractors to have come up with. However, many people obsessed with him often forget that it is precisely reckless rhetoric like this which has helped him mobilize the worst of the urban middle-class vote in the country. People who are fed on the false narratives of ARY News and DG ISPR are the ones who will actually cheer for this visionary comment made by their handsome Messiah. Presenting yet another ignorant address by the self-proclaimed statesman.

Imran Khan represents the fascist mindset of the authoritarianism that conservative Pakistanis represent who idealize the Iranian revolution and people hanging in public squares but only demand selective accountability for civilian leadership. These slave-minded people across the nation, but particularly concentrated in Punjab, Karachi, and urban Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been fed this narrative for decades by the military. They either believe that the military should be in power or their puppet leaders like Imran, who many of them also see as a divinely sanctioned Messiah.

I hope his Nawaz Sharif-hating liberal defenders in the urban centers of Pakistan would be thrilled with the “improvements” and “reforms” he has in mind for the judicial and political system in Pakistan. He is already acting on it. Perhaps, this fascism is what his farcical Medina State is all about.

Not only does he ignore the plight of the Uighur Muslims in China, he further proves his idiocy and authoritarian leaning by minimizing the democratic struggle of the people of Hong Kong while he sheds  crocodile tears for the people of Kashmir. Well, who’s not surprised.

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Clearly, a leader who made such an outcry for years about the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay by the US military must feel offended by this. Especially because it concerns the “Muslim Ummah” he claims to champion the rights of. Will he discuss the plight of the Uighurs in the new propaganda channel that is supposed to address Islamophobia that he plans to launch with fellow fascists Erdogan and Mahathir Muhammad? Or has he been conveniently skipping this part of the news just like his party followers live in a parallel universe?

Unfortunately, this shameless leader which many urban conservative nationalists sympathizing with the military establishment, which is corrupt and incompetent in its own right, proves to be a disgrace for the nation time and time again. But he truly represents the ugly worldview of his regressive nationalist conservative followers.

Imran Khan and PTI, along with their malicious voters, are fascists and they are proud of it.

We must call them out and ridicule them for it.

Tightening the Authoritarian Noose Around the People’s Neck

Source: flare.pk

Pakistan is not a country we should feel proud of anymore. It has increasingly become an entity that is acting hostile to the people it is supposed to stand for. This is clear and evident by the recent curbs on political freedom and freedom of speech in the current year reminiscent of the years of the military dictatorship in the country. However, the comment of the current Chairman PTA, who happens to be a military officer (surprise, surprise) is unprecedented.

The PTA Chairman Maj. Gen. (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa, whose name sounds eerily related to the current Army Chief, said that social media in Pakistan should be blocked in the manner of China and the UAE. He recommended that Pakistan should develop its own social media channels to allow for state censorship and censor inappropriate content. Appointed in December 2018, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, General Bajwa mainly focused on “blasphemous content” to make his case of taking away the right of citizens to use social media to express their voices. If anyone had doubts about democracy being under threat in Pakistan, this statement should remove it.

The Chairman PTA was testifying to the Senate panel examining purported grievances where he remarked that “either the technical abilities of the organization be enhanced or the allow them to block social media websites to stop the circulation of blasphemous material.”  Even though nobody is ever going to explain what a retired general is doing serving this position and one which he is most likely not qualified for, his comments will largely go unaccounted for other than some fringe criticism on the social media of all the places. Nobody is going to mention it on the mainstream media and any criticism on the national news is improbable.

Surely, for the PTA chairman, blocking more than 850,000 porn and news websites are not enough. It is pretty clear that for these state authoritarians, it is not nearly enough. They want to go after the internet itself and if not the internet connectivity to maintain a facade of modernity, they will neuter it to an unusable state-regulated version.

With the launch of CPEC development projects and the rolling out of the optic fiber link from Khunjerab to Gwadar, one of the biggest fears is the Chinese internet spilling over into Pakistan. While thankfully the CPEC projects in Pakistan have appeared to slow down, it has nevertheless inspired the civil and military bureaucratic despots at the reins of administration in this country.

Unfortunately, the narratives these anti-democratic forces have nurtured for the past seventy years have duped well-meaning conservative citizens into believing that their civil rights and political freedoms are bad for them and for the country. Even in the name of blasphemy and national security, there is no shortage of urban nationalist conservatives in the country who would gladly sacrifice the internet as a public enemy.

The greatest tragedy of all is the fascist administration of PTI, a party that was pretty much built by and through the power of social media, other than a little help of our military establishment of late. More than the duplicitous and malicious leadership of the PTI, the people who would be the greatest losers are the urban educated voters of the party who look down upon the traditional and less privileged voters all across Pakistan. The government they voted in might be infringing on their rights but they have a choice to speak up. Pretty soon this little freedom we have will be gone.

Pakistan still has a lot to lose, which it continues to lose every day.

Standing Up to Your Government’s Tyranny

Source: Reuters/ABC News

This iconic image means a lot to our generation. A generation that has only heard distantly about dangerous fascist threats in World War II movies and novels does not realize what it means to stand up to that government.

We absolutely have no idea about the courage and bravery of this great figure who decided to stand up to the tyranny and might of his authoritarian government. On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the number and extent of which nobody knows,  It was perhaps the last major push for a democratic China ever since the It is unthinkable that citizens in China today, except for those who witnessed and suffered it first hand, are not even aware of the scale of the atrocities that their government committed that day. ‘

It should only send shivers down our spine as citizens of Pakistan today that we are not dealing with a very different situation with the authoritarian military regime and its installed government in Islamabad. It should particularly unnerve the Pakistani youth with a hope of freedom and democracy in their hearts and minds, that the same Chinese regime that unleashed this tyranny on its people is knocking at the door and is already inside the boundaries of Pakistan in the name of CPEC and Belt and Road. More than ever before, the Pakistani government is adopting their ways to curb political freedom in the country. They are even here with their own version of the internet, which threatens free access to the internet for the people of Pakistan for the time to come.

Pakistan’s unhinged and unaccountable military regime, which does not even hide its intentions to undermine civilian democracy in Pakistan, is not bothered by any such concerns. Its state instruments are cracking down on the dissidents of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement on this very day, beating them and charging them with batons. Only days ago, protestors from the movement were directly fired upon as more stories of their violence on the Pashtun tribals appear on the global media.

At times like these, you cannot but admire the courage of the people who stand up to such tyranny and brutality without the fear of their personal freedom and safety. Especially in a country where extrajudicial detentions are the norm.

Maybe you are driven to be that fearless when you are really left with no choice.

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Source: Foreign Office/DNA India

Right after Pakistan had a hint of diplomatic upper hand over India by announcing to hand over the captured pilot Abhinandan Varadhaman as a peace gesture, it returns to petulant and self-isolating behavior again. What the ruling party obviously considers its diplomatic victory, Pakistan decides to boycott the Organization of Islamic Conference held in the UAE out of protest because Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had been invited. Because obviously if we did not do something like that, it would not be Pakistani foreign policy.

Of course, the corrupt but the comparatively visionary President Asif Ali Zardari had some better ideas about foreign policy on the National Assembly floor.

The OIC in its tradition has given a more of a pro-Pakistan statement on the Kashmir issue but it is important to notice that the only person who was heard on both Kashmir and terrorism in India and Pakistan was Sushma Swaraj.

 

 

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Despite the relevance of the mention of terrorism at the OIC platform, Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating the menace from the region remains dubious. The way the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been dodging questions about the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammed has been embarrassing, to say the least.

Despite the Foreign Minister and the DG ISPR denying time and time again refusing and embarrassing himself about the presence of terrorist groups that initiate attacks from the Pakistani territory, Pakistan finally decided to take action against certain groups including the brother of Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed.

If indeed the Jaish-e-Mohammed was not behind the Pulawama attack and had not taken responsibility, then surely the timing of these attacks is curious. Of course, these could be considered to be among the “any measures to deescalate the situation” as promised by Foreign Minister Qureshi. But what exactly prompted the Government to take this action all of a sudden is interesting. Perhaps it is the upcoming deadline for the FATF grey list review in May.

Of course, the PML-N supporters had a field day with the government taking action against Islamist militant outfits, something that was a part of the controversial Dawn Leaks which became the bone of contention between the military establishment and Nawaz Sharif administration. Former Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, often accused of treason back home, had his own words to offer about it.

Others like Pakistani journalists targeted by the local agencies were not buying any of Pakistan’s claims and shared this clip that was critical of releasing the captured Indian pilot Abhinandan. It is abundantly clear through evidence examined by the international media that the Indian claim of targeting a terrorist training camp in Balakot was a gross exaggeration but it is difficult to argue that groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed have not been spawning and thriving in Pakistan.
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The Pakistani government and security establishment should finally get serious in substantially dealing with these Islamist militant groups if they care about the people of Pakistan. The UN Security Council is all set to vote on Jaish-e-Mohammed and if China does not come to Pakistan’s rescue again, more than just diplomatic isolation and embarrassment will become Pakistan’s fate.

We do not expect the Pakistani security establishment to have any regard for our relations with India, which is causing misery to millions in the Indian subcontinent, or even to care for the financial losses its citizens will suffer, but at least they must watch their own interest. They will probably not care as much for the common citizen but greater diplomatic isolation on terrorism with India’s stronger case will not bode well for the financial and economic future of the country. It is something that is going to impact their own ability to attract finances to a fiscally challenged country.

The new regime focusing on the tourism of the country should not forget how any subsequent developments can hurt the country on that front.

Another Defeat for the State?

Source: samaa.tv

So the Pakistani state capitulated to the religious extremists again?

Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah won again.

However, the best part is that it only took us 3 days of mindless violence and rioting to get there. At least it saved the nation the weeks of inconvenience that the PML-N government had subjected the citizens to last year. At least this time we did not see a shutdown of the social media.  And especially because there was no attempt of a violent police operation against them. Actually, politically it works perfectly for PTI.

You know, it’s wise to settle these matters more tactfully and avoid violence on the protesters at all cost. Even if they burn the entire city down. It is very important not to stir any tensions or hurt any sentiments.

And it is perfectly fine to tolerate a “political party” that is calling for the death of alleged committers of blasphemy in their party anthem.

This time the protesters did something even cooler than before. They called for open rebellion against the State of Pakistan, asked for the 3 justices who acquitted Asia Bibi to be murdered and asked the military to impose martial law after deposing the Army Chief who is alleged to be an Ahmedi. Especially after this sort of rhetoric, forget the almost billion dollars they managed to waste with all the rioting, that they will not be forgiven this time around.

The difference is that instead of dispensing stipends among the miscreants, our security institutions are now in the hunt for people who did all the damage. And that is in strike contrast with the military not moving in despite requests from the defeated Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal last year, and particularly with the infamous optics of a Rangers official distributing money among the TLP protesters to apparently pay for their trip home.

But what has not changed and what will probably not change in the near future is that the state is not strong enough to stand up to the blasphemy cult, which is essentially Islam as sanctioned by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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The daring speech of the Prime Minister turned out to be dud after all as he, holding the Interior Ministry portfolio, had left for China for a reprimand debriefing for his previous stance on the CPEC before the TLP matter could be resolved. The matter resolved on its own with the PTI government conceding to most “reasonable” demands of the TLP and pushing them to apologize for killing a couple of people and destroying a billion dollar worth of property of innocent and defenseless private citizens and of the government.

Also, the government in principle agreed to the idea of putting Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List to ensure that she is killed by a Pakistani civilian even if the state acquits her.

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All liberals were able to achieve was getting the twitter account of Khadim Hussain Rizvi blocked.

Meanwhile, the fate of Asia Bibi continues to hang in balance.

And Khadim Hussain Rizvi keeps on getting stronger every day.

Witnessing History in Korea

Source: AFP

Sometimes even a handshake is significant progress for peace.

Historic handshakes have a tendency to remain forever in the memories of people for many years to come. Today, such an event occurred with the historic handshake of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In. Something that many of us never thought we would live to see.

Of course, in the case of any peace summit between two rival entities, the results are always unspectacular and underwhelming. That is because you can’t resolve decades, sometimes centuries, of problems overnight. The same skepticism surrounded the detente policies of Nixon and Kissinger, as well as Reagan-Gorbachov talks. The same pessimism cast a dark shadow on the Sadat-Begin hug, and the Rabin-Arafat handshake in the White House lawn in 1993. The same disappointments met all the fuss around the Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh talks in India.

On this day, it is significant because the dictator described as the devil incarnate in the global media has made such a warm and peaceful gesture. The handshake was followed by a Summit declaring the end of the Korean War and the commencement of the peace regime. And as needed, the meeting will be followed up by President Moon Jae-In’s visit to North Korea later this year. This is a particularly interesting time as the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, is also a Korean.

Now there is a significant role of the United States and China behind this arrangement. Apparently, CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s talks with the North Korean leadership was about something. This will hopefully continue into the future and result in the ambitious denuclearization that it promises of the Korean peninsula. However, history suggests that the promises of denuclearization are seldom kept and dictators and democratic republicans alike will feel reluctant to let go of nuclear power. The Pandora’s Box has now been opened.

You cannot help but feel proud and optimistic at the state of the world at this moment. You feel optimistic about the future as the likelihood of conventional war becomes slimmer and slimmer with every passing day in such traditional conflict zones. Surely, this does not mean that all the remedies of the world will be resolved but at least some reduction in suffering is an improvement.

One way or the other, I believe that such symbolic gestures are very important, if only for the history books. Because moments such as these, the few that I have mentioned above, will serve to be living memories for the civilization to be inspired for peace. It will remain

This is why this handshake is more than an empty gesture.