A depressing shift
THE PPP’s trajectory on Covid-19 was a promising one during the first wave, but today, the party’s approach to the alarming surge in infections can be compared to that of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. This week, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tested positive for Covid-19 and went into isolation, yet his party continues to fully participate in the opposition PDM’s rallies and is encouraging its supporters to attend a planned event in Multan.
This is a depressing change from its earlier position when the PPP was clear in its messaging and actions on prevention protocols. In fact, Mr Bhutto-Zardari himself is one of the few politicians who is rarely seen in public without a mask, and is very aware of the serious nature of the potentially fatal virus. The fact that he, the Sindh chief minister and prominent PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira all tested positive despite taking precautions should be a wake-up call. But no such reckoning appears to be on the cards.
Far from the initial days of inspiring confidence by adopting a science-led approach to the pandemic, the current phase has seen the PPP abandon its firm position as it continues to lead superspreader events. The PML-N, too, is equally guilty of blatant disregard for the threat emanating from Covid-19 as it holds massive public meetings under the PDM banner. The fact that Ms Maryam Nawaz is campaigning for the safety of students who are being forced to take the MDCAT exams, and therefore risk exposure, demonstrates that the party understands the health risks. Yet, it is going full steam ahead where PDM rallies are concerned.
All this is happening as new Covid-19 cases, daily deaths and hospitalisations are reaching precarious levels. The positivity rates in Karachi and Peshawar are close to 18pc and 20pc respectively. The number of critically ill patients admitted to hospitals with serious respiratory issues is growing. More and more people on social media are posting about health complications and even deaths caused by the virus. The number of officially recorded Covid-19 deaths outside hospitals, too, is rising. The situation is soon going to take a very ugly turn if the PDM does not rethink its strategy and pause these rallies until Covid-19 is under control.
Here, the failure of the government to engage with the opposition is also to blame. Acrimony and pettiness are apt descriptions for our national politics — and the PTI’s aggressive stance vis-à-vis the opposition has not helped. With its penchant for arresting opposition leaders rather than engaging them in dialogue, it has created a perfect storm: an alienated opposition that is so fed up with the government’s witch-hunt that it perceives every request or plea as doublespeak. Better sense must prevail all around before we plummet towards a national catastrophe.
‘A hundred projects’
CHAIRING a meeting to discuss the Karachi Transformation Plan, a scheme envisioned by the federal government to pump Rs1.1tr into Pakistan’s biggest yet most neglected city, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that over 100 projects had been planned for the Sindh capital. Along with the prime minister, the army chief and several federal ministers were in attendance. Moreover, Mr Khan was informed that 6,000 apartments were being built in the sprawling metropolis, and that anti-encroachment operations in Karachi would not go ahead unless alternative accommodation was arranged for the affected people. While these promises — especially of the 100 projects — are no doubt well-intentioned, the people of Karachi, rightly jaded after years, nay decades, of similar assurances that never saw the light of day, will believe it when they see it. The massive induction of funds was announced in September after an outcry in the city following the complete collapse of the civic infrastructure in the wake of August’s torrential rains. The initial announcement was dogged by controversy, as the centre and Sindh government sparred over who would pay for the plan and who would oversee it. As of now, Karachiites have yet to see anything concrete where the plan is concerned, apart from a raft of promises that the city’s infrastructure will be fixed under the scheme.
Thanks mainly to the Sindh government’s accumulation of nearly all civic powers and the resultant emaciation of the province’s local bodies, as well as the centre’s lack of interest, Karachi today is in a shambles. While on the national scale there is grand talk of gleaming motorways, the city has to make do with potholed roads. Other urban centres have seen the launches of modern metro buses and trains, but Karachi’s people travel in rickety ‘Qingqi’ rickshaws. As for the recently ‘reborn’ KCR, it has miles to go before it can play a meaningful role in resolving the city’s transport problems. Encroachments and lack of potable water and proper drainage are other major issues affecting Pakistan’s business capital. If the federal government is serious about resolving these multiple issues, it must, along with the Sindh administration, deliver a workable plan that can rehabilitate and develop Karachi as a 21st-century city. Moreover, all plans will come to naught unless there is a functioning municipal government to look after Karachi, one that is answerable to its residents. This is something the PPP-led Sindh government must reflect on.
Failure of education
THE educational institutions are closed because of Covid-19. The process of learning has to continue but the tools to ensure this leave a lot to be desired. An emergency model of instruction must promise continuity of learning to students across class and income divide. It is all very well to see the increasing number of internet users as a sign of progress, even if this has been achieved because of lockdowns. But not everyone can access the cyberworld. More innovative methods are required. For instance, there are wide open spaces in rural areas and even towns that can be used for teaching students — if the elements permit. Examples from elsewhere also provide useful insight. Take teachers in India. Many of them record their lectures and then have mobile teams relay these in villages via speakers to learners who maintain a safe distance from each other. In Africa, the radio service has been put to good use; but in Pakistan, it is surprising that the ‘medium’ of paper hasn’t been emphasised enough by those trying to educate youngsters in these times. Indeed, written or printed notes and lectures sent to students regularly by schools can go a long way in addressing their lack of accessibility to fancier gadgets. Paper can reach where the internet cannot. Similarly, radio and television still have a role to play.
It is often presumed that those without facilities such as the internet and the tools required to access it are doomed. In this sense, junior-level students are at a greater disadvantage as compared to those in the senior classes who are much closer to completing their studies. This is a reflection of our lopsided priorities — and shows how miserably the state has failed to lay a solid foundation for schooling at the primary and pre-primary level. Even as we try to overcome this most trying phase, there is an opportunity to identify our lapses and strategise collectively for a better, more equal education in the months ahead.