Nature has imbued human beings with altruistic passions which motivate them to help others in distress situations voluntarily in their neighbourhoods, within the community, on the city and country levels or even at the global level in case of natural disasters and pandemics which pose unsurmountable challenges to governments and the agencies responsible for dealing with such scenarios.

It is needless to emphasise that COVID-19 is the biggest challenge of the century to the entire humanity, which has not only claimed human lives, but has also devastated and decimated economies around the world. Economists believe it might take decades to wipe off the effects of the pandemic.

Developing countries like Pakistan with already fragile economies and inadequate health structures faced a formidable situation. For Pakistan it was a challenge to maintain a balance between life and livelihood, keeping the economy afloat, addressing the issues of the poor and the working classes and containing the spread of coronavirus.

Therefore, a pragmatic and necessity-driven approach to deal with the challenge was required. The Prime Minister rightly felt that Pakistan could not afford to adopt the strategy of complete lockdown and shut-down of the economy. It was therefore decided to go for a smart lockdown in the areas most affected by the pandemic. It was indeed akin to walking on a tightrope, specifically in reaching out to poor people in quarantined areas and ensuring uninterrupted delivery of food to them. There was also a realisation of the fact that the challenge was so profound that it could not be effectively handled by the government agencies and there was a need for raising a corps of volunteers to cope with the situation.

It was in the light of this realisation that the Prime Minister took the prudent and visionary decision to raise the Corona Relief Tiger Force initially charged with the responsibility to provide uninterrupted food supplies to the people where a smart lockdown was imposed, distributing aid to the impoverished and also conducting widespread campaigns regarding hygiene and health awareness; a very crucial undertaking in regards to sensitising the people about the gravity of the situation and inculcating in them the culture of social distancing and adhering to the preventive measures and guidelines issued by the government.

The force is part of an ambitious multi-pronged strategy by Khan’s government to impose movement restrictions and shut down industries while also ensuring that Pakistan’s poorest citizens—many of whom rely on daily wages to survive—continue to receive adequate supplies of food and other essentials.

There has been an overwhelming response to the call for joining the Tiger Force and reportedly, well over one million volunteers have registered so far since March 31, when the registration was formally opened. Those who have registered include students, teachers, engineers, social workers, political workers, private businesses, journalists, senior citizens, army personnel, lawyers, civil servants, corporate entities, general public and NGOs. Out of these registered volunteers, more than 350000 actively participated in dealing with the coronavirus.

It has indeed been a very rewarding and successful experience in view of which the government has also extended the sphere of their duty to render voluntary help in coping with the situation created by the locust attacks; yet another formidable threat to the agriculture sector. There are also indications of using the tiger force for help in the campaign against hoarders and profiteers who are exploiting the permeating situation to serve their selfish commercial interests at the cost of the community and their sufferings. They are supposed to collect information in this regard and inform the concerned district administration for appropriate action. The government is also seeking their involvement in the efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change through participation in the tree plantation drive across the country under Prime Minister’s monsoon plantation drive and a decision also has been taken to re-open the registration drive.

The reality is that notwithstanding the flak directed at the government for establishing the Tiger Force, it has made a stellar contribution towards mitigating the impact of COVID-19 and mobilising the community to respond positively to the initiatives put in place by the government. Therefore, in recognition of the services of the Tiger Force, the government rightly decided to observe August 9 as ‘Tiger Force Day’. One can hardly take an issue with the concept of voluntary participation of the people from all sections of society in supplementing the efforts of the government to deal with acrimonious situations of behemoth dimensions and beyond the control and capabilities of its agencies to handle.

The establishment of the force is a very positive step. However there is a need for imparting specialised training to the volunteers in handling different kinds of emergencies, catastrophic circumstances, other difficult situations and giving the force a permanent structural identity so that its mobilisation in the event of future adversities does not pose any problem or delay in firming up a timely response.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The writer is a freelance columnist.