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.

Ghotki Riots and Medina State

Source: Screenshot/Dawn

Last week saw some of the worst anti-Hindu riots in the past months in Pakistan, and especially since India revoked Article 370 in Kashmir. So the story is that a Hindu principal of a local school in Ghotki, Northern Sindh, was accused of blasphemy by a 14-year-old student. Human rights activists Mukesh Meghwar and Kapil Dev were one of the first people to break the story on twitter along with other Hindu human rights activists on the ground in Ghotki. Gradually, the mainstream journalists starting responding to it, spreading the word.

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The fires of hate were honed by the infamous Mian Mitthoo or Pir Abdul Haq, who is known for inspiring several forced conversions targeting Hindu Girls. It is interesting to note that you will barely ever hear about a Muslim woman marrying a Hindu woman in Pakistan so it is more about enforcing the supremacy of one community. The man reportedly led the march to the school and also incited destruction in local temples. The Hindu population in the city was reduced to their homes out of security fears. Later, the Sindh government registered a case of religious bigotry against the violent mob but kept a careful distance from Mian Mitthoo himself.

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Communal mob violence is a common trait across the Indian subcontinent, if not beyond. However, the form it takes in Pakistan has been particularly facilitated by the state and government of Pakistan over the years. It was great to see people gather in the vandalized temple, assured the community of their safety, and even the police filing a report against the violent mob. However, the reality of the peace and security of the are far from being that convenient.

There is little doubt about the negative role of the State of Pakistan in general in terms of minority rights in the country. However, where the Ghokti episode turned disgusting was the reaction of Prime Minister Imran Khan to it. He continued shamelessly propagating the abstract of Medina-State, the supposed principles of the state created by Prophet Muhammad, even though there is little evidence or knowledge of what it was like other than undemocratic autocratic tribal rule that likely imposed its faith on vanquished Arabian tribes.

Furthermore, the recent propaganda against Hindu nationalism, comparing RSS and Modi with Nazism and Hitler, all over the place in Pakistan as a part of their response to the revocation of Article 370 in India. Not sure if that had exactly helped people’s views of the Hindu community and this came from an administration that claims to treat Hindus and all other minorities as “equal citizens.”

The Pakistani state has been selling these lies since its creation but never like Imran’s Khan hypocritical “Medina State” philosophy. The worst part is lying to the face of the minorities and expecting them to pledge allegiance to a communal contract which they obviously do not consider fair.

Imran Khan not only refused to acknowledge that minorities could not be safe under a theocratic state and needed a secular contract but even went one step further. He declared the Ghotki incident a conspiracy against his United Nations General Assembly Address. Let alone the filthy politics he is playing with the repressed and brutalized Hindu community in Pakistan, his own men must be behind this conspiracy against his address himself, if anyone at all, since Mian Mithoo has gotten fairly close to his party.

Imran Khan’s statement is only reflective of his megalomania and self-obsession as a messianic peacemaker on a global level. Unfortunately, to him, everything centers around him, from India-Pakistan relations, to Kashmir, and to his. This is the central thought behind his delusional and hypothetical Medina State and hypocrisy and lying are its core principles. But of course, only idiots are not according to the dear leader.

How Pakistan is Treating Its Hindus

Source: geo.tv

It is an open secret that the hate against the Hindu community and the larger idea of Hinduism are well ingrained into the hearts and minds of people all over Pakistan. This is particularly true for Punjab where the percentage of Hindu population is almost non-existent with the exception of a handful of prominent active temples. Even in the school textbooks, the tone used against Hindus in history mentioning ironically the time of the Arab and Turkic invasions is often antagonistic if not on the verge of being purely hateful. This upbringing indeed has its consequences.

This probably should not be the case when it comes to Sindh where the Hindus make a majority of the population. But you don’t have to be an expert on Sindh to know how the community is largely treated over there. But things enter a different, surreal zone when it enters the realm of the federal government expressing its views on this community. Earlier this month during the confrontation with India, such an incident occurred.

PTI Information and Culture Minister for Punjab Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan has developed a bit of a reputation of being a loudmouth. In his state of fury and emotions, he forgot to censor himself enough during a public speech and ended up spewing insults against Hindus that many Pakistani Muslims like him casually believe.

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Now he ironically himself is from Hindu ancestry, as are most people living on the eastern banks of the Indus river, if he is really from the family with that surname (Chauhan as shared by the Rajput warrior Prithvi Raj Chauhan). He represents the converted native Hindu people who have become self-haters and have started imagining themselves a part of an invader’s foreign culture.

Pakistan used to be a part of the larger Hindu culture of India and many important Hindu sites are located in the country. The land occupied by the Pakistani state has undeniable Hindu cultural roots. But ever since independence, it is safe to say that the community has been systematically cornered and driven out of the country. Only a few years ago, mass exodus of dozens of families to India occurred due to the trend of abductions and forced conversions that target teenage Hindu girls.

So when Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chauhan says something like this, it is the reflection of the mindset of a nation which is effectively eliminating a people who are supposed to be a part of it. Chohan later apologized and Imran Khan’s ruling party PTI momentarily did some firefighting by immediately sacking the minister. People appreciated the gesture across the board but like most PR shenanigans of the party, this one had a short-lived effect too. Recently, Chauhan has been reinstated as a Minister, this time for the Local Bodies. This move should have people wondering, especially the morally constipated followers of PTI, whether the party was wrong to sack him earlier or was it wrong to “promote” him, in columnist Marvi Sirmed’s words.

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Meanwhile, the Hindus in Pakistan continue to be targeted by the majority Muslim community with forced conversions of young girls of the community. Recently, the case of Reena and Raveena will be the

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The sisters Reena and Raveena, who were allegedly abducted on Holi Day, appeared at the marriage with the men who had taken them. Apparently, it was a case of the girls eloping. Many of the social conservative and nationalist Muslims are saying that the conversion was voluntary. Nevertheless, people who have reported from the courts where they appeared and had the first contact with their parents have a different story to tell. But the problem remains that the girls are underage and their marriage remains inappropriate and legally dubious, to say the least.

But this was hardly a solitary case. Even since the Holi day, quite a few girls have been abducted for the same reasons too. And only teenage girls are targeted by Muslim boys. The Hindus of Pakistan have no choice but to find themselves at the mercy of the majority community and watch what happens next with frustration. And while people will invoke all the violence and intimidation the underprivileged Muslim population of India is facing these days in the Hindu Rashtra mania triggered by Modi’s administration, unlike the Muslims in India, there is no one to stand for them in Pakistan.

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The good that could possibly come from this situation is that the civil society and the Hindu community itself have decided to speak up and protest. They are pressuring the politicians to legislate a ban on forced conversions and underage marriage. They are letting Pakistanis know that they have had enough of the nonsense. So whether Pakistan moves to become a Secular State or start pursuing the mirage of the “Medina State,” the sort of mindset that has resulted in the culture of forced conversions, it needs to address the protection of the Hindu community. In an Islamic Republic, the Hindus will take any political deal they can get.

Of Honor and Cruelty

Protest in Karachi for Rimsha Case (Source: Sunny Gill for Christians in Pakistan)

I missed talking about a recent case of public lynching that took place in Tando Adam, Sindh, recently, as I had not outraged about it half as much as I had done with the Sialkot incident. The Tando Adam incident is important because it is more offensive in so many ways. While the brothers in Sialkot were suspected robbers, the boys killed in Tando Adam were suspected by people of having sex with a girl in an “illegitimate” way, which was apparently not forceful. The young boys were brutally beaten in public and made to bleed to death. Sounds worse than Muslim Hell to me.

So now you cannot even have sex with some random person in Pakistan without getting killed. But thankfully, most of the people get away with it without meeting such fate. These particular individuals were not so lucky unfortunately. As usual the local police was nowhere to be seen but not sure if they were as much involved along with the primary offenders as in the Sialkot case. The video clip got leaked or was released with planning this time around as well and the media further propagated it. In any case, such brutalities of the society should not go unnoticed. The following video has extremely graphic content, posting for the record.

Ghairat” which is roughly and pretty inappropriately translated to the word “honor”, has been a great domestic killer in Pakistan, though it is also a phenomenon prevalent in the rest of the sub-continent. Not long ago, the parents, the brother and the sister of a Pakistani-Belgian girl have been found guilty for murdering her “in the name of honor” and are now doing time. While some people have objected to the term “honor killing” for the righteous impression it could give and have called for changing it with something like “dishonor killing” or something (which sounds even more ridiculous), I think that keeping it this way busts the myth that something like murder could be associated with (false) honor.

Well so much for the copulation-preventing honor, but “ghairat” is a term with a much more broader meaning and it actually also applies to being empathetic and sensitive towards atrocities and injustice, believe it or not. So while our nation can be perfectly “ghairatmand” or “honorable” to kill its daughters for having their own way with their sex lives, it is perfectly “beghairat” or dishonorable for letting a little girl rot in jail for a “crime” that she does not even understand. Blasphemy.

Just after 3 days of the 65th independence day and 3 days before Eid, Rimsha Masih, a young girl of 11 or 14 years of age, and who happens to be Christian, was arrested by the Islamabad police on the charge of desecrating the Holy Koran in the G-12 sector of Islamabad, the nation’s capital. The girl has been reported to be suffering from Down’s Syndrome, a mental disorder which disables a child’s cognitive abilities. At that age and with that mental condition, I can hardly imagine if she would even be aware of the existence of Muslims or the Koran, let alone the thought of understanding any hatred fed to her by anyone, as is the impression on many people.

The child was reported to be caught by some locals with burned pieces of a children’s learning book for reading the Koran, so you cannot even be sure if the burned page had any Koranic verses on it. But let’s suppose there must be. Regardless of that, it was inhuman of some of the locals to try beating the child and to hand her over to the police and she is still rotting in their custody. Ironically, handing her over to the police is considered rather safe in this case. What’s worse, the Christians of the colony had started leaving for the fears of a Gojra like incident, in which Muslim mobs set an entire Christian colony on fire. The matter has finally come to the attention of mainstream media, after days of outrage in the Pakistani social media circles, which has actually led to somewhat shocking discoveries.

Hafiz Khaled Chishti (Source: PukhtoonistanGazette)

On Geo TV political talkshow Capital Talk, which is hosted by journalist Hamid Mir, the Imam Masjid, or roughly the pastor of the local mosque, Hafiz Khaled Chishti was interviewed. He admitted on TV that he had been urging the locals to drive the members of Christian community out of the area, “since we are an Islamic state”, and that their presence was causing a hindrance to allow them to perform their “religious obligations”. What I cannot figure out is why that Imam Masjid has not been arrested for such a sermon instead of that poor troubled little girl. I think you hardly need to say anything else about the state and government of Pakistan and the moral degeneration of its self-righteous society.

Furthermore, the most disappointing aspect of the talk show was that no one was ready to even discuss that blasphemy should be challenged as a crime or not, which is the reason why the tone of this post is so biased in favor of the child. Also it is shameful how condescending the attitude of some of the participants was towards the “minorities”. The anchor seeing the silver lining that people actually did not seek mob justice and did not set her house on fire and the Maulana on the panel bestowing the favor of letting Christians conduct their religious ceremonies and congregations. Well thank you very much. I find it utterly disgusting.

I think we have a long way to go, if there is any end in sight anyway.

The following is the talk show as available on youtube in Urdu.

This post is dedicated to all the people who claim that Islam is an all-encompassing religion which offers complete protection to non-Muslims in a society under its domain. It is also dedicated to the people who think that certain religious minorities such as Christians are not being persecuted in Pakistan and it also requires the attention of those who consider Muslims to be incapable of any such behavior.

But then again, why worry.

Rimsha is just another guinea pig to be sacrificed in Quaid-e-Azam’s laboratory of Islam.

Creating a Scene… and Proud of it!

Creating a scene, and being proud of it.

This has become more of a tradition in Pakistan. Such behavior has actually become quite widespread among the representatives of the Pakistani nation and a lot of its displays have been noticed of late. Adding a new member to the list, joining the revolutionary Abdul Qayyum Jatoi.

The latest display came from Dr. Muhammad Ali Shah, a Karachi-based orthopaedic surgeon and Minister of Sports of the Sindh Province representing the MQM, who like a lot other medical doctors in the country are into other fields, in his case sports, politics and yes, show business. In fact, he is not really associated directly to show business, but frankly even serious news on Pakistani media has become nothing short of show business and making this remark keeping in mind his love of being the center of attention.

On the opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi, Dr. Shah was with the Pakistani contingent as the Chief de Mission. A controversy or instead a spectacle ruined the pleasant feeling triggered by the cheer of the Nehru Stadium crowd for the Pakistani contingent. Pakistani athlete Shujauddin Malik was supposed to be the flag bearer and at the time, Dr. Shah, who was already holding the flag for unknown reasons, refused to hand it over to Malik and carried on with the march, waving to the camera.

Isn’t he looking nice? Glad the camera didn’t miss him. Wait, is that his name on the screen? And is that DD commentator out of his mind? I feel sorry for him. Maybe he is naïve enough not to recognize a famous and popular personality like Dr. Shah because he lives on the wrong side of the border.  But all the factors point towards the fact that the Pakistani contingent had “officially” submitted Malik’s name to the organizing officials as the flag bearer. Just goes to show we have just the right people representing Pakistan on all fronts, from sports to politics.

So what’s so wrong about that? He wanted to carry the flag like a proud and patriotic Pakistani and is the most enthusiastic guy in the group. Great. I don’t really have problems with that, he could march on the streets carrying the Pakistani flag every single day, but the ceremony requires that one of your leading athletes should carry the flag and lead the contingent. Athletes were carrying flags f0r all other contingents of all other countries. Either all of them were insane or Dr. Shah knows something they don’t.

The bottomline is that he created a scene. OK, so what, forget about it. I never even wanted to write about it. But what is worse, is that he didn’t acknowledge that he made a mistake, defended it with a sense of pride, and despite being a senior official engaged in a stupid tussle with Shujauddin Malik, which ended up demoralizing the athlete and which is still in news on the date of publishing of this post. How ridiculous. Currently the responsible media of Pakistan are milking the issue to sell their precious news airtime.

When you are leading, even the little and seemingly insignificant things count, and Dr. Shah displayed his leadership by carrying the flag, which is alright, but going out of his way to do so, and by making things even worse by mistreating an athlete and abusing his authority, he certainly showed people what not to do if they ever find themselves in his shoes. As the Pakistani contingent landed back home after the games, Dr. Shah shamelessly defended his action and instead of acknowledging his mistake, said that he would do it again if he gets the opportunity.

I hope whoever has followed what has happened does not offer him another opportunity. Or be prepared for another spectacle. And watch them be proud of it.

If anyone is following the kind of comments both the gentlemen are passing about each other, you would surely realize how embarrassing and shameful this episode has turned into. Even if we consider for a second that the athlete overreacted in expressing his disappointment over the row and should have performed better in the games, “putting the country first” (had he been fit, that is), was the senior most official and the all-knowing guru of sports Dr. Shah even aware of his responsibilities?

At the end of the day, he has just shown us what he really is. A shameless exhibitionist who can go to any limits to get the attention of the cameras. He is not the first, he won’t be the last.

Dr. Muhammad Ali Shah, Thank you for making us proud, and for creating a scene and being proud of it. It only helps educating kids at home watching you.