A security guard stands behind a barrier closing a street during a government-imposed lockdown as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus, on the outskirts of Islamabad on March 24, 2020. Photo: AFP / Farooq Naeem

The Covid-19 pandemic has entirely changed the world within a few months, with most countries going for lockdowns and billions of people irrespective of caste, creed and religion pinning their hopes on science to discover a vaccine for the pandemic that is not only taking precious human lives but also impacting economies.

In the South Asia region where most countries, especially Pakistan and India, have been wasting resources on defense and leaving their populations at the mercy of circumstances, is now realizing that the actual defense needed in the modern world is to protect the masses and to improve their quality of life by providing them health and education. The government of Pakistan, where Covid-19 is spreading and the number of patients increasing at an alarming rate, has finally decided to lock down the country.

However, this decision did not come from the prime minister, as Imran Khan in an address to the nation categorically told the masses that he would not go for a lockdown as it would hurt the poor. However, the government of Sindh led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) announced it would lock down the province the same day, and the very next day the government of Khan’s own province, Punjab, also announced a lockdown.

Meanwhile the newly appointed director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major-General Babar Iftikhar, told a press conference that all shopping malls, restaurants and public transport would be closed across the country.

It does not take rocket science to see that what is going on in Islamabad, as Imran Khan, having being proved on many occasions a visionless and incompetent prime minister, has been pushed back and the powerful military establishment is calling the shots now. Had it been left to the wisdom of Khan, he would have played with millions of lives by not locking down the country just because his political rival PPP decided to do it first in the province it rules.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has come back to Pakistan from London to fight the pandemic, and this is very important political development in the background of a national crisis, as without getting the nod from the establishment he would not have returned.

The younger Sharif is known for his flawless administrative and management skills, as he successfully led the campaign against a dengue pandemic in Punjab as chief minister in 2011. Other than this he is a favorite of the majority of the civil bureaucracy, and if sources are correct he has started monitoring the situation with their help and with the approval of the establishment. 

However, the problem remains that Pakistan needs a national plan that not only fights the pandemic but can also heal the political divide and eradicate the ignorance of the masses. No single political party or even the establishment on its own can implement such a plan, and that means a new action plan inclusive of the whole political leadership is the need of the hour.

The problem remains that anyone who knows Imran Khan can easily tell that he is not capable of rising above petty politics and leaving behind his narcissistic approach even in this time of global crisis. So perhaps he needs to change his attitude and rather than delivering useless speeches to please his fan club should start taking practical measures to stop the outbreak of this pandemic.

He can do this by meeting the political leadership of the country and also by allowing a national task force to be headed by Shehbaz Sharif and in which Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah would also be included. If Khan is not able to do this, then chances are that his premiership will not be able to survive in these testing times.

The battle against Covid-19 is nerve-racking and will last a very long time. It will take at least 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to come out on the market and this means that many people around the globe will lose their lives while many economies across the globe will be sunk.

In these testing times, every country needs a leadership capable of vision, wisdom and statesmanship to make difficult decisions for the survival of their respective nations. In such a scenario Imran Khan is not fit to rule the country, as he has no vision, nor he can break free of his egoistic and self-centric approach.

In a country where most people are poorly educated and are hostage to the faith merchants, Khan has only been accepting help from the so-called religious scholars to issue statements in favor of him and to pray for the nation in these times of crisis. He has been unable to persuade the mullahs and peers (saints) to close the mosques and shrines, and these right now are the places where because of public gatherings this pandemic is spreading at an alarming rate. Khan relies heavily on the faith merchants to keep his far-right vote bank intact, and this makes the situation more gloomy for Pakistan.

The number of Covid-19 patients is expected to rise rapidly in the next month and not only has the incompetent governance of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party made things worse, but the doctrine of mixing religion with the nationalism of the invisible forces has created a society that does not believe in prevention and instead leaves everything to God, and against logic and sanity believes that without any precautionary measures they will be protected by God.

Since Pakistan has not conducted large-scale testing for the coronavirus, it can be said with ease that there are more victims of Covid-19 than shown in the official data, and that most people do not understand the gravity of the situation and so do not avoid handshaking and public gatherings. So it’s not only the inability of the current government to cope but also the ignorance of the masses that has the potential of making Pakistan another epicenter of this pandemic.

So a change in the political ranks and rescuing the masses from the influence of the state-backed faith mafia are the needs of the hour.

Inadequate health facilities in which there are no more than 2,000 ventilators for a country of 200 million people are an eye-opener for the establishment and the many who blindly believed its narratives that a security state that spends its resources on defense and arms purchases and leaves the masses to their own has any chance of surviving in the modern age, or can compete with those countries that give more importance to the quality of the lives of their people. The same goes for India, which also lacks health facilities adequate to cope with the catastrophic impact of this pandemic.

The economic impact is also a grave concern for Pakistan, as it will quickly need to request that international financial institutions provide it with aid so it can keep its economy ticking. However, as the whole world is uncertain of the future, it is going to be very tough for the poorer segment of society in Pakistan, or in any other country for that matter, to bear the brunt of this disease.

Time is running out for Pakistan, and if quick decisions are not made and an able political leadership is not given the chance to stop the pandemic from making further damage to the economy, it will be impossible for the country to win the battle against Covid-19. However, it is a battle that still can be won if a unified political leadership with vision and ability to steer the ship of the country in these testing times is put in place.

The current inept PTI regime needs to be replaced, religious exploitation by the faith merchants must be stopped, and the ignorance that is preventing a large number of people from taking precautions should be eliminated from Pakistani society.

Fingers crossed that Pakistan and the rest of the globe can beat the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.