The test is tough.

Beyond the first month since the initial coronavirus case was detected in Pakistan on February 26, Pakistan stands at an official tally of 1526 confirmed cases and 13 reported deaths. While the official dashboard either plodding, measured or precautious; the numbers reported from sources otherwise continue to scream and warn about the dark days ahead. With the unofficial tally of casualties standing at 16 and confirmed cases beyond 1600; the frightening figures continue to scale up with each passing moment.

The heavily populated province of Punjab, which defended itself just a fortnight ago with not a single case, has surrendered to the highest number of 558 confirmed cases nationwide and growing. What holds the might to scare the bejesus out of the public anytime is the number of tests done so far – a few hundred thousand out of a population of 220 million – the fifth most populous nation in the world, second most in the Muslim world and second most in the South Asian region. With limited testing kits in comparison to the population, with a few others arriving in aid from China and many still awaited to cater the need; the country is facing yet another corona-challenge.

Cases are emerging where corona positives showed no symptoms. This means, ideally, out of the whole population of 220 million, each and everyone needs to get tested; but the government is not ready nor is the healthcare system prepared. Till last week, doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital and medical staff were protesting for the provision of PPEs. Not just the lack of medical equipment but the training still poses to be another exigent problem. Ventilators are insufficient, beds inadequate, masks still scarce, isolation/quarantine centres not fully equipped, if all this wasn’t enough to burden and test the government’s nerves, public behaviour still appears counterproductive and ineffectual.

While writing down these lines I hear youngsters whooping out on the street playing cricket and with each sound of their bat thumping the ball forcefully up in the air for a chhakka, my heart sinks a beat. I try to warn them of the danger around, the caution circling and they look at me as if their enemy is not corona but me. With a sigh of despair and a prayer for their safety in my heart, as I turn inside my house door, at last glance I see some old men of my neighbourhood returning together from the nearby mosque after offering their prayers. I also say a silent prayer for their safety and hidayat and return to resume my column writing.

Add to this, the situation at Taftaan border holds a massive threat for the federal and provincial governments on a daily basis. With Iran continuously pushing the Pakistani pilgrims despite the border being closed, the camps/quarantine centres being set up at Taftaan continue to tell the sorry state of affairs of the administration of the provincial government. Not just that the pilgrims returning from Iran are not properly checked and quarantined, they are also being sent to the other parts of the country without a fourteen-day observation period. This speaks of disaster. The Government of Balochistan is massively failing at containment efforts. It wasn’t just the influx of pilgrims via Balochistan but the indecisiveness as well at the part of Punjab government to contain religious/social gatherings, to call upon restrictive movement that it is now faced with the biggest challenge since PTI came into power. It is not just a challenge for the ruling party in the province, it is actually for Imran Khan for he has been the one calling the shots. The test is his: in the federal government, in Punjab, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in Balochistan. With directly in-charge of 100% of the population and indirectly of more than 70%, will Imran Khan come out positive in this biggest and grinding test of his rule?

His followers want him to and to be honest, we all want him to come positive out of this test, but can he? More importantly, can he do it alone? The answer is an obvious no to the latter, and a thoughtful ‘between a yes-or-no-kind-of-situation’ to the former. But the issue is, at the moment, there is no other alternative, there is no other plan. The already fragile economy is hit hard by the closure of businesses and industries. Thousands have lost their jobs already in the past one-and-a-half-year and thousands more are feared to lose due to the pandemic. Commodities are feared to go scarce. Hoarders are already taking sinful advantage of the grim situation and basic food necessities as flour are going short in the market. Not just for us, the global economy has shifted into reverse gear and the biggest economic recession is about to hit. Even the unprecedented low oil prices couldn’t be fruitful. And the most worrisome part is, no one knows for how long this has to continue.

Can Pakistan afford the situation in the long-run? Can we even afford it, say, for the next six months? If no, then where are we heading to? The future picture seems bleak and pitch black with a slight ray of hope. There is no other way out than to fight it out together. Together is the key-word here, more so for Prime Minister Imran Khan. He must immediately convene an All Parties Conference or call it a National Emergency Conference, invite all the stakeholders, the heads of political parties, extend a special invitation to heads of security forces. Sit down together, chalk a way out for the next six months, for the next year. The budget month looms large upon us all. Ramazan is just around the corner, the public will need and expect a great relief till Eid.

The state cannot shut people indoors forcefully indefinitely; this is against basic human nature. Even a state like China could not do it hence they focused on ruthless measures for a limited time-span. The result is imminent. While the whole world goes into forced lockdown, shutdown and curfew, the epicentre Wuhan is opening up and returning to normal life. We were late in taking decisive action at the beginning, we are late even now to decide what happens in the next six months or a year. Do not delay it further than this for the cost would be highest or gravest – even politically. The clock is ticking. This is the time to sit-together and take actions. Next week is critically crucial and Khan has to make sure his result comes out positive out of this test and become a testament to his leadership.

The test is tough.

The writer is a prominent talk show host. She currently hosts G For Gharidah on Aap News. She tweets

@GFarooqi

It is not just a challenge for the ruling party in the province, it is actually for Imran Khan for he has been the one calling the shots.