Journalism is a delicate skill you develop with many years of sweating legwork for detecting and chasing stories, brewing far behind the events unfolding before the public eye. Being a career-driven politician, Sadiq Sanjrani, the Chairman Senate, can’t appreciate the nuanced compulsions of this profession. In the fear instilling times of COVID-19, it will not be fair to revile him for agreeing to a suggestion in utter panic, therefore.

The government had asked the upper house of our parliament to start another of its sessions from Friday morning. Before the commencement of it, the Chairman was also “advised,” informally, to close the press gallery to ensure preventing the spread of Corona. His caring heart instantly agreed to the suggestion.

Before agreeing to it, however, he asked the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) to ensure “Live” broadcast of the Senate proceedings. He genuinely thought that it would help reporters to select material for highlighting through their stories.

A delegation of Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA) had to have an SOS meeting with him. Two of my young colleagues articulated long and passionate arguments to make him understand that digital coverage of parliamentary proceedings never worked for a hardcore reporter. His or her eyes are instinctively programmed to spot so many things, which the cameras can’t show. A journalist needs to physically sit in the press gallery to empirically fathom the real time mood and “the message” of a sitting.  Parliamentary reporters are fully conscious of the caution, we must adopt in the times of a pandemic. They voluntarily go through all the checks required to get clearance from the temperature checking staff and thoroughly cover faces with masks.

Even after entering the parliament building, all of them were willing to ensure that the press gallery strictly observed the fundamentals of social distancing. Reporters also decided to take turns and share their observations with the rest of colleagues through a “pool system.”In the end, Sanjrani had indeed acted kind and accommodating.  Without being physically present in the press gallery Friday, no reporter could have explained how through a written answer to a question, laid before the first sitting of the Senate, the government was forced to concede that around 3 million jobs had, so far, been already lost to COVID-19. And mind you these were just initial assessments. The full impact of the pandemic-driven gloom is yet to be weighed in a comprehensive manner. The opposition senators, especially Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N, were absolutely justified to worriedly wonder about a recent decision of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the federal cabinet in the given context. Thursday, it had decided to shut down the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) for good, after sacking 9000-plus of its fulltime employees.

During his long years in the opposition, Imran Khan and his diehard loyalists would often boast that after coming in the government their party would turn the PSM around. The said outfit rather had the potential of developing as an iconic model, showing the world about how to make a government-run business, not only sustainable but also profitable.

Hammad Azher, otherwise a vigorously vocal minister, had no answer to their taunts. He is scion of an influential family of Lahore, also known for owning and running a highly successful “model” of steel-related business. He kept asserting that the Imran government was still determined to revive PSM with Public-Private Partnership. 

Wagging tongues in Islamabad are surely telling a different story in whispers. Insidious rumors want to make us believe that the revival of PSM doesn’t seem feasible in foreseeable future. The economic wizards of the Imran Government are fully aware of it. The “real worth” of PSM is the huge tract of land, comprising 18,660 acres. Even in the current season of economic depression an acre of this land could at least fetch 3 million rupees. By disposing the whole land to major players of the real estate, the government could eventually collect a hefty sum of Rs. 500 billion. Perhaps we desperately need the said amount to cope with Corona-driven shortage of cash in government’s kitty?

The questions related to PSM were eventually passed on to a Senate Committee for further probing. I seriously doubt if this would make any difference to the fate of PSM employees. The case is almost closed and it is time to move on.

Probably, with the same intent Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to address the “Tiger Force,” composed of young volunteers willing to help his government for taking its Corona-connected messages to the masses. The operative part of his speech stressed the need of reviving economic activity, while handling Covid-19 in a “smart” manner.

Without clearly talking of “herd immunity,” he sounded as if passionately pleading for it and once again consumed much of his time emphasizing the downsides of a strict lockdown. He didn’t pretend promoting audacious bravery for recklessly disregarding the possible consequences of gradually opening up of the business activity, in the season of relentless attack of a deadly virus. The Corona seems set to spread. But he wants the Tiger Force to prevent the super spread of it by providing diligent assistance to local administrations, all over Pakistan, for ensuring comprehensive execution of protective and preventive SOPs.

He felt proud that around 175,000 of our youth were willing to volunteer for social service. This will certainly furnish a huge cadres of dedicated types; keeping a vigilant eye on multiple fronts. Besides ensuring the strict execution of Corona-preventing SOPs, the same cadres would also collect data on left behind segments, desperately needing cash assistance from the government.  In a broader sense, the same force would also work like a massive intelligence-gathering outfit for the Imran government, pointing out flaws in administrative systems and profit-seeking hoarders. Prime Minister also intends to mobilize the same Tiger Force to combat locust and turn Pakistan green and clean with tree plantation.

The whole scheme of the Tiger Force and the tasks assigned to it, surely sound noble and inspiring. We can’t disregard the harsh reality, however, that COVID-19 has begun pushing millions of our households to unbearable poverty and misery. These households would legitimately expect their youthful members to focus their entire energy to find means of eluding the consequential blowback of a pandemic. Expecting the same youth to volunteer for social work does not sound fair and workable in the given circumstances.  The opposition parties are almost set to project the Tiger Force as a structure of “parallel administration,” eventually turning into an outfit, ensuring total control of the PTI government. Due to the death of one of his Corona-hit sitting members, Munir Orakzai, the national assembly could not deal with any business. Until the presentation of the budget on June 12, however, the PML-N vehemently wants the Speaker to set “substantive business” for sittings scheduled from the first day of next week.

Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition leader in the national assembly and the PML-N President, had already written a formal letter to the Speaker. Through the same, he wanted the national assembly to focus on more than one potentially explosive issue until presentation of the budget. We have to wait and see to find out how accommodative the PTI government decides to act in the end.