As expected the process of restarting the industries has been nothing short of a comedy of errors! While we have some industries that just kept running and never really shut down, as they fell in the bracket of ‘essential supplies’ with the term ‘essential’ being stretched to every possible imagination; others kept running on the pretext of undertaking manufacturing of healthcare items or being key exporters (whatever constitutes the term ‘key’) or some on the grounds of simply being too big or important to be closed down, the ones that actually closed down or still remain closed are either in the Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) sector or belong to the breed of entrepreneurs who believe in playing by the book.

As if this glaring dichotomy was not bad enough, we have on record special circulars that blatantly favour business houses by exclusively mentioning their names in allowing them to operate, poorly timed optics of the Prime Minister perceivably holding audience with a few selected businessmen, the Commerce Minister openly delegating preparation of ‘industrial policy amidst COVID-19’ to PBC (Pakistan Business Council) - a select big boys business club and currently a rather fluid situation (as one writes) where clear SOPs on safety protocols for re-opening industries, across the board, still remain missing. Ironically, SMEs not just in Pakistan but also across the globe are always the main employment providers and the backbone of any growth drive with a purpose to simultaneously achieve ‘equitable distribution’. Little wonder that industrial areas like Faisalabad, Sheikhupura, Gujrat, Jhang, Kasur and Gujranwala are currently boiling and the out-of-job labour there perhaps at its tipping point!

This author has maintained from the very start that industrial closure in principle is always a bad idea – if there is a problem then it is the government’s job to manage it and in-turn keep jobs and supply-chain intact. From what we are being told, we are in a state of war and if indeed so, then wars are either somehow always about economics or are invariably won or lost due to it. Mughals lost the war for India when their treasury went dry owing to Emperor Aurangzeb’s financial mismanagement; Germans lost the two World Wars when eventually their resources ran out; USSR broke into fragments, as its coffers went dry; Germany was to ultimately reunite primarily on the strength of its finances; UK failed to retain Honk Kong due to China’s rise as an economic powerhouse; and the list goes on. Point being that this war for Pakistan, like any other country, will be fought as much on the economic front as on the medical or any other front for that matter.

And when have wars ever been fought without any casualties? So here also there will be accidents, new battlefronts springing up as we go along, pain, courage, errors and all the usual things that are a part of parcel of any war – and like any other war the victory will invariably be dependent on the quality of leadership. The wartime leader needs to provide unity, fairness, honesty and a clear road map that motivates all stakeholders. This is why it is so important that in undoing the industrial closures the process should entail uniform guidelines and opportunities for everyone across the board and not just a select few based on their financial muscle. The criterion should not only be clear and practical for everyone involved, but the government should also facilitate the small and medium sized businesses – with resources and expertise – in implementing the new COVID-19 safety and prevention protocols.

Further, it is a management issue and therefore merits a management solution, meaning, instead of involving controversial agencies like the Police, IB, etc., for enforcement, compliance should be handled through professional third-party accreditation bodies such as SGS, BV or perhaps even the governmental PSA. The sooner a transparent and friendly policy in this regard is rolled out the sooner the government will get to redeem itself from the follies committed over the last few weeks.