PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan in his address to the nation on Monday made some significant remarks about the growing number of Covid-19 cases in the country. Mr Khan announced restrictions on all public gatherings, which effectively limits political rallies by his own party as well as those of the opposition. This is a welcome decision. Covid-19 cases are spreading at an alarming rate, with the national positivity rate inching towards 7pc — a frightening statistic which in several other countries has triggered strict lockdowns. There is no doubt that the limiting of public gatherings will prevent the spread of the virus. However, given the PTI’s acrimonious relationship with the opposition parties, and the generally toxic political environment, Mr Khan’s decision in this regard may be seen by opponents as a stealth attack on their democratic right to assembly. The government and the opposition have been at loggerheads from day one, and on many occasions their rivalry has gone far beyond the level of political competition considered necessary for a democratic system to function robustly. Both sides, including Mr Khan himself, have indulged in petty politics and resorted to deeply personal, misogynistic and unsavoury attacks on their opponents. In such an environment, the decision to restrict political gatherings may come across as a ruse. Nevertheless, it must be considered seriously by opposition parties given the threat the virus poses to members of the public, and Mr Khan or one of his aides should engage with their opponents directly to allay suspicions. In fact, Mr Khan’s decision to allow outdoor wedding ceremonies of up to 300 must be challenged, as it creates a false sense of security that these gatherings are somehow safe, even when science indicates otherwise.
It is a pity that the government and its opponents have been unable to work together on any important issue. Yet, the formation of the NCOC and the effective coordination between members of the federal government and provincial ministers is a small silver lining in this cloud of gloom. It is this spirit of rising above the situation and tackling a national challenge that is required during a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The prime minister must seriously reflect on the value of such coordination and rethink his government’s combative approach; he himself has noted that Pakistan may be hurtling towards a point where the pandemic could hit harder than it did during the first peak in June.
Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2020