Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto's pleas for opposition parties' advice to be heard went unheeded. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the entire scenario for human beings. It’s all about survival now, and everything else is a lower priority.

While scientists are busy trying to develop a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, there is little hope of achieving this in less than 18 months’ time. So medical science is up against the odds, and everyone, irrespective of caste, religion and nationality, is pinning hopes on the scientists.

But there are certain parts of the world where right-wing politicians are fooling the masses in the name of religion and keeping them in the delusion that the fragile health systems in most countries are not the results of wrong choices made those states.

The same is the case with the government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is playing the blame game by bashing opposition politicians to divert the masses’ attention from the pandemic’s effect on lives and the economy and doing nothing to keep people from going outside their homes and offices.

There is no doubt that many other governments have found themselves in hot water over how they have dealt with the pandemic, but none left it to religious clerics to decide whether to hold congregational prayers or not.

On Thursday, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) in Lahore urged the federal government to reconsider its decision to allow congregational prayers in Islamabad and in the provinces ruled by PTI-led governments. The PMA also said that the number of people infected by the virus is higher than claimed by the federal government, and warned against any relaxation of the lockdown, stating that doing so in an attempt to revive the economy could prove a costly decision.

The casual approach of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is indecisive and gives the impression that the PTI regime believes in survival of the fittest and does not care about the vulnerable sections of society. After all, it makes no sense to bring in an ordinance to boost the construction and real-estate sectors at a time when most laborers have migrated to their home towns with their families because of the pandemic and the lockdown.

Likewise, there is no point in allowing the mullahs to continue inviting people to mosques for congregational prayers and Tarawih. It is almost like inviting people for collective suicide, as it will only spread the virus at an alarming rate and could bring the already fragile health system to the verge of collapse.

The recent loan of US$1.39 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) could have been utilized to bail out small and medium-sized enterprises, but the priorities of the Khan-led government are different. It is instead subsidizing the big property tycoons, while carrying on with its “accountability” witch-hunt to undermine the opposition.

On Thursday, the prime minister held a telethon to collect donations from the masses for the government’s Covid-19 relief fund and, as usual, brought in a religious cleric, Tariq Jamil, to endorse the effort.

It is difficult to find any other government anywhere in the world that is asking the masses to donate at a time when it is the responsibility of the state to come forward and help its citizens.

During the telethon broadcast live on TV, when Khan was asked why he did not invite the opposition to participate, his reply was that less money would have been donated if Shahbaz Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari had been invited. Though many pro-status quo journalists tried to give the impression that it was a very funny reply, in reality it was reflective of Khan’s inability to accept criticism from the opposition.

At a time when any other national leader would have been ashamed to ask his or her citizens to help the government through charity while not doing enough for them, Imran Khan again showed his pettiness by trying to paint the opposition parties as corrupt.

A government that, in the middle of a pandemic, is busy around the clock undermining the opposition through a certain section of the media and accusing dissenting journalists of taking bribes may well be walking on a path to self-destruction. It takes no genius to understand that even if Khan ends the lockdown, the economy will not revive until a cure to Covid-19 is found, and no one will invest in Pakistan during these times of uncertainty and growing panic.

The entire strategy of the Pakistani government to deal with the pandemic is to accuse doctors of siding with the opposition, declaring journalists corrupt, accusing the opposition of political point-scoring and corruption, and leaving the masses to the mercy of the mullahs and fate. This is the practice being adopted by the entire PTI regime, as its cabinet ministers are busy on mainstream and social media in attacking the opposition political parties.

In contrast, the provincial government of Sindh led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has not only restricted Tarawih prayers for the month of Ramadan in mosques but it is also of the view that the lockdown should not be relaxed. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday appeared very well organized and logical, and instead of bashing Imran Khan or his government talked about the possible scenarios emerging from Covid-19 and requested that the entire Muslim community around the globe offer prayers and Tarawih in their homes instead of in mosques.

This is a remarkable contrast, where a young politician like Bilawal is understanding the gravity of the situation while the nation’s prime minister is refusing to come out of the hallucination of being a saint and wants to govern like a dictator.

A party that during its seven years of rule in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was not able to build a better health infrastructure, and is facing corruption allegations in the sugar and wheat scandal, the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) fiasco, the Malam Jabba scandal, the Bank of Khyber corruption case and the foreign funding case, cannot afford such poor performance during the pandemic.

The PTI government should focus on saving the lives of its citizens while making sure that the economic impact is not as bad as projected. Mere accusations against opponents and a free press will not help the masses or the economy to come out of the crisis created by the pandemic and now being worsened by the inability and incapability of the government.

Fingers crossed that all of the analysis of dissenting journalists like us will be proved wrong and Pakistan suffers the minimum of damage both in terms of human lives and on the economic front.

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.

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