Dawn Editorial 6 May 2020

Sindh-centre tension

THE centre-Sindh spat refuses to ebb away.
It has now been more than nine weeks since the first Covid-19 patient was diagnosed, but Pakistan is still struggling to find a national direction in its fight against the virus.
The reason, unfortunately, is rather clear: politics has trumped prudence.
The Sindh government was the fastest in its response to the deadly virus, and this triggered a strange political dynamic whereby the PTI leadership started looking at the threat through a partisan lens.
For its part, the PPP government in Sindh became even more aggressive in its efforts, buoyed no doubt by the welcome praise it started to garner from the media and public at large.
By March, the concept of lockdown had become a divisive issue whereas it needed to be dealt with purely as a public health strategy requiring coordination between the centre and all the provinces.
Since then, it was been downhill in terms of Pakistan’s effort against the scourge of the coronavirus.
The result has been a needless controversy that has soiled the national atmosphere at a time when what we really needed was solidarity and cohesion.
Every day brings forth a new slanging match between ministers of the PTI and PPP, with mutual accusations flying back and forth and diluting focus on the real threat.
Both governments admit this acrimony isn’t serving anyone’s purpose and yet such is the zero-sum nature of our politics that no one can knock heads together and make them see sense.
The downward spiral appears unstoppable.
The cost of this avoidable bickering is a steep one.
Confused messaging on the lockdown — mainly because the federal and Sindh governments disagreed on the need for it — has led to a weakened impact of the lockdown itself.
The endless quarrel on whether a lockdown is good or bad led to many stakeholders and lobbies jumping into the debate for their vested interests, thereby further complicating matters and sowing the seeds of doubt in people’s minds.
Worse, this debate became a PTI vs PPP binary whereas it should have been all about the impact on suppressing the spread of the infection.
Yet no lessons seem to have been learnt.
This bitter partisan wrangling at the time of a national crisis is now infecting other areas of governance.
The threat of a locust attack and our response to it is also falling victim to such wrangling.
It is very unfortunate that the top leadership of the parties is unable to put a stop to this bitter duelling and close ranks against a common threat.
As we enter a crucial phase in the struggle against the virus, it is still not too late for Islamabad and Sindh to rise above their partisan interests and form a united front against Covid-19.
The stakes could not be higher.


Virus politics

STATES the world over are working overtime to try and develop a vaccine to counter the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. However, even this noble effort has been stymied by politics and nationalistic hubris. For example, the US and China have both traded shocking claims, with the former alleging that the virus was ‘manufactured’ in a Chinese lab. Moreover, efforts to form a joint collective against the virus have been obstructed by some who want to go it alone and perhaps emerge as ‘heroes’ on the global stage. Billions of dollars were pledged at an event on Monday sponsored by the EU to help speed up research on the vaccine. Along with the European states, Japan, Canada and the UN as well as individuals and NGOs also made pledges. However, there was one surprising no-show at the event: the US. Asked why no American representatives participated in the fundraiser, US officials gave ambiguous answers. However, it is more than likely that the American president’s distrust of the WHO, as well his ‘America first’ mantra, had a part to play in America’s absence from the event.
In more normal times, such sulking can be put down to ‘national interest’ and election-year grandstanding. But in the midst of a pandemic it is more than bad form for the world’s leading economy to stay away from a fundraising effort designed to deliver a vaccine against an infection that threatens all humanity. The US is, of course, spearheading its own efforts to develop a vaccine, along with China and Europe’s respective efforts, in a medical version of the space race. But unlike the moonshot, in which the Americans and Soviets competed for matters of national pride, finding an antidote to Covid-19 entails a far more serious goal: saving the lives of millions of people. Such an effort should be above national, political and racial considerations and must be for the welfare of humanity. It can best succeed if nations pool their collective energies — scientific and financial — to develop a vaccine without delay. The French president is correct when he says that a vaccine should be “global public property” available to “the whole of the planet”. No nation or corporation should hog the limelight and try to play saviour. There will be many other occasions for petty politics and displaying ‘national pride’. In the middle of a deadly pandemic, global unity and humanity are the primary concerns.


Start-up potential

THE amendments to the Companies Act, 2017, will help tackle issues that pertain to the definition of start-ups, protection of the latter’s minority shareholders’ rights, stock options for their employees, etc. The improvement in the start-up regulations should help encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. But the development of a conducive start-up ecosystem is impeded by many other issues. The job market is changing globally, with more and more young graduates preferring to work for themselves. Hence, we see start-ups becoming an integral part of the economy in a growing number of countries all over the world. Start-ups not only promote innovation and the use of technology, they also create jobs and help explore new sectors of the economy.
In Pakistan, the start-up culture is yet to take hold, although we have seen quite a few technology companies grow and create space for themselves in the last few years, helped by 3G/4G and the increasing use of smartphones. There are numerous reasons for the slow development of a vibrant start-up environment, beginning with our education system that discourages independent thinking and entrepreneurship. Then the few who try to put their entrepreneurial skills to use and innovate are severely hampered by access to funds. No start-up can hope to survive and grow without financial support. However, our banks and businessmen are too risk-averse to invest in young entrepreneurs or new ideas. It is always hard to convince foreign venture capitalists to put their faith in a start-up that is unable to attract funding from its own country. This rampant aversion to risk and innovation makes it more difficult for a new business to start and sustain itself. It is generally believed that technology-based start-ups can bring about a big change in the economy if properly nurtured and given a chance to grow. In fact, across the world, these start-ups are helping governments reduce hunger, provide education to underprivileged children and extend healthcare facilities to poorer communities. We could also use them to tackle similar problems at home.


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