In the wake of the recent global spread of coronavirus, there appears to be a worldwide breach of the social contract – a primitive contract between the state and individuals whereby the former must protect the latter’s lives in all circumstances. The world’s democracies, autocracies and monarchies have been found failing alike in taking timely and effective measures to mitigate the miseries and woes of their people in the COVID-19 outbreak. There has largely been only a broken healthcare system to fight this deadly pandemic across the world. Also, there is currently no clear roadmap to instantly contain the spread of coronavirus in most of countries, and Pakistan is no exception. Unluckily, there is hardly any proactive and inclusive national response strategy to meet this daunting challenge in Pakistan. We couldn’t respond to this challenge as one nation. While the medics, law-enforcers and military personnel are fighting on the frontline against the contagion in Pakistan, our politicos have just chosen to play politics with the coronavirus issue to serve their narrow political ends. So, regrettably enough, such a sensitive issue has also become increasingly politicised in the country.

The government presently looks in no conciliatory mood in making the opposition parties part of the formal consultative process to wage a united war against the pandemic in the country. On the other hand, these opposition parties are only busy in criticising the government’s anti-pandemic policies rather than playing any constructive role in a time of national crisis. Political rhetoric, once again, rules the roost. The supporters of each party are busy in trying to discredit and humiliate their political opponents on social media.

In the absence of local government institutions in the country, a lot of people are trying to approach their public representatives and parliamentarians in the constituencies in their hour of need. These public leaders, however, have ‘quarantined’ themselves after maintaining ‘social distance’ from their ‘covidiot’ electors strictly in line with the COVID-19 safety protocols. Also, we are not seeing any role of our parliament. National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser tried, in his personal capacity, to mobilise this important public forum by convening an online meeting of parliamentary leaders to discuss the coronavirus issue. Such initiatives, however, were sabotaged when leader of the opposition in national Assembly Shehbaz Sharif chose to ‘walk out’ from the meeting after PM Imran Khan unnecessarily quit this online session. Shehbaz Sharif, as the former CM of Punjab, has spearheaded a successful anti-dengue campaign in the province. The Punjab government, at least, should have consulted him, and benefited from his experience in these hard times.

The nationwide lockdown imposed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak is just going to enter the third week in Pakistan. Such prolonged restrictions have observably added to the miseries of troubled Pakistanis. At present, almost one-third of the country’s total population is seeking some kind of financial assistance to keep body and soul together. Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced a Rs1.25 trillion “financial stimulus package”, out of which Rs150 billion are allocated for low-income families and would be disturbed among them over a period of 4 months. It is, indeed, a meagre amount for such a large population. This amount, however, has also not been distributed among people so far. The government has yet not finalised the modalities for such distribution.

At present, there is no comprehensive mechanism for the assessment and distribution of the government’s funds to people deserving financial assistance. The government intends to distribute these funds through its BISP and Ehsaas Programme in collaboration with NADRA. These government-funded initiatives, however, do necessarily not fully cover such individuals and families which currently need assistance in the wake of a prolonged lockdown in the country. Therefore, it was largely advised that the government should distribute its funds and provide relief to people through local communities.

In my last column, I suggested mobilising former members of the local government in each Union Council across the country. These grassroots level public representatives could become the most effective tools to help the masses. Each Union Council is generally subdivided into multiple wards, and each ward covers only a few streets in a locality. It would be really useful if a relief committee is constituted in each ward of a Union Council comprising respectable individuals from the same locality. These ward-level relief committees would certainly be familiar with each household in the locality. They can conveniently identify families deserving financial support in these hard times. The government can provide its relief funds to these committees after devising a reliable mechanism for funds audit. These grassroots level communities can also be encouraged to raise funds for their local relief operations since the practice of collecting funds through a single and centralised deposit system has not been so successful in Pakistan.

I have also suggested enforcing the National Disaster Management Act, 2010 in letter and spirit since this Act provides a comprehensive legal framework to devise and enforce a disaster management strategy aiming to prevent or mitigate the damage of any catastrophic event in the country. However, instead of it, there was constituted a National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) to “collect, analyse, and collate data and information draft recommendations and forward them to National Coordination Committee (NCC)”.

The officers and jawans of the armed forces have graciously contributed to the Corona Relief Fund. Now business leaders, civil servants and judicial officers should also exhibit similar generosity. It is really regrettable that our millionaire parliamentarians and billionaire political leaders, including government ministers, have yet not announced any donations for this national cause. Our politicos should currently focus on the country’s war against the pandemic. Once our country is out of the woods, they will certainly have even better opportunities to disgrace and discredit each other.