Haphazard way of battling coronavirus onslaught
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
Human beings everywhere are by and large panic-prone. We in Pakistan are no exception. Like others, we also heard of coronavirus in the second half of December 2019. It was only last week – on March 13, to be precise – that the World Health Organisation (WHO) pronounced coronavirus (now Covid-19) as pandemic. The next day, President Donald Trump of the United States declared the outbreak of coronavirus as a national emergency. He freed up money and resources to fight the virus.
We in Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore have our own peculiar ways of doing and not doing things. Health system in government hospitals is not elaborately advanced. In private hospitals it is incredibly expensive and only the very rich can afford it. Tests for coronavirus are not cheap (Rs 6000 to 7000 or more) and these can be conducted by highly skilled lung specialists. Until 2015, even the well-equipped Rehman Medical Institute (RMI) in Phase-5 of Hayatabad had just one Pulmonologist. The nearby North West Hospital did not boast any more specialists.
Due to brain drain the best of our physicians have already gone abroad to graze in greener pastures, so to speak. Coronavirus is a complicated new phenomenon. It is not simple MBBS doctors’ cup of tea. We are short of simple MBBS doctors too. So the situation appears grim. Carrying limited budget, the elderly patients with asthma, pneumonia and low immunity have little to hope for. For Pakistan, it is like a battle that has to be fought on many fronts. On state-level, everything possible is being planned and announced (but hardly being actually done).
The KP government has swung into action. Schools, cinemas, parks and public places have been closed. The administration served notices on wedding halls in all the four towns of Peshawar. In Town-3 alone, it sealed about 30 banquet halls. It also closed the OPD of LRH and disallowed the evening private practice by doctors. Steps were also taken to stop or minimise crowding at eateries, students’ hostels, roadside tea stalls, shrines, ‘sasta’ bazaars, small-time zoos and play lands. Sport lovers faced a disappointment to learn that, as a precautionary measure, the skating competitions in Malam Jabba (Swat) got cancelled.
This sudden closure at a massive scale affected the day-to-day business in 46 other sectors leading to financial loss worth millions (if not billions) of rupees. Some people raised the question as to what the logic was in closing wedding halls when marriage ceremonies were being openly celebrated in spacious homes and on the adjoining vacant plots of lands where crowds of guests could be seen. At Torkham border on March 14, about 15, 000 passengers arrived or departed from morning to evening. This was alarming because doctors believed that passengers with a travel history were the potential carriers of the killer new virus.
Meanwhile, as a good will gesture, the opposition leader in KP assembly Akram Khan Durrani (former CM) withdrew his call to hold a protest camp (scheduled for March 16) in front of the Chief Minister’s House. In Islamabad, the national security council held a meeting, attended by top civil and military officers. The meeting unanimously decided to cancel the parade scheduled for March 23. This was also seen as a precaution against the spreading coronavirus.
Like elsewhere in the country, political circles in city also condoled the death of Dr Mubashir Hasan, the founding member of PPP. For the last many weeks, he had been bed-ridden with acute chest infection and asthma. This rendered him unable to take any food and he virtually turned into a skeleton of bones. Early on March 14, his condition deteriorated and this time the deterioration proved fatal. The funeral prayer was held at his residence in Gulberg, Lahore.
As far as his life history was concerned, he was born into a well-to-day family of Panipat (East Punjab) on January 21, 1922. He moved to Lahore with elder brother Dr Shubbar Hasan. In this way he got his early education initially in Panipat and later in Lahore. Graduating from University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, he did his MSc from Columbia University and PhD from University of Iowa. On return home, he briefly served in the irrigation department of Punjab. He later switched over to teaching in UET Lahore. As twists and turns of fate would have it, his services were terminated in a crackdown on progressive elements during the government of General Ayub Khan. Instead of sitting idle, he began to work for the slum-dwellers of Lahore. In this social work he was assisted by his wife Dr Zeenat Hasan and a friend Raza Kazim.
It was at his residence in 1967 that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) formed the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In the general elections of 1970, he won the national assembly seat from a working class constituency in Lahore. On forming his government, ZAB picked him for the very first cabinet and appointed him as the federal finance minister (1971-1974). He tried to fine-tune the economy by taking private enterprises into national control. This was a new experiment which did not yield the desired results. He kept motivating ZAB for more radical steps. However, with the passage of time, he somehow felt that ZAB and later his daughter Benazir in a subtle manner disregarded his advice on deepening PPP’s roots into the country’s peasants and workers. It was this disenchantment with the romance of PPP’s socialism that he joined PPP’s Shaheed Bhutto faction with Ghinwa Bhutto. Ghinwa not being an ideologue of any sort did not inspire confidence. Therefore, in 2017 he resigned from being the president of her party in Punjab.
He was the founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and architect of the Pak-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). When IK Gujral was the prime minister of India, the armed forces of both the nuclear neighbours at one stage came very close to an all-out war. It was firstly the Track-II diplomacy led by retired diplomat Niaz A Naik and secondly the peace forum led by Dr Mubashir and Asma Jahangir that defused the situation.
Despite being heavily pre-occupied, Dr Mubashir, in his capacity as a pacifist and a political analyst, wrote nearly 10 books and several articles in leading mainstream papers. In a tweet, HRCP said that it deeply mourned the passing away of Dr Hasan, a leading public intellectual, author, politician and commission’s founding members. Similarly, in a tweet, former chairman of HRCP Afrasiab Khattak, said that he had the honour of working with Dr Hasan in HRCP and PIPFPD. He added that he had always been learning from Dr Hasan’s knowledge and experience.