For a moment, one almost forgot the pandemic coming back in our lives — when everyone and their uncles started discussing an iftar dinner with the Pakistani army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, attended by journalists. A “strictly” not-to-be-talked-about affair has become the talk of the town. How does that work? All things aside, the biggest takeaway of the meet was that the conflict between India and Pakistan was like a ‘saas-bahu ka jhagra’, and that the resolve to settle the disputes won’t be walked back. Wish we all live to see that day. The new strategic depth suggests ‘saas-bahu ka jhagra’ has to end.
Over to some unimportant stuff now. Cases of coronavirus in Pakistan continue to increase, recording more than two hundred deaths in a day — first time since the start of the pandemic. Situation is critical but there is no need to panic. That is the verdict from the officials who continue to reassure that there is enough medical oxygen in the country. This shifts the focus back to the lack of management, and no clear policy of the Imran Khan government on tackling the pandemic. Too busy planning ways to take control of the residences of the opposition leaders, giving sermons over knowing the West all too well, the PM’s priority hasn’t been vaccines but his speeches. This is precisely what his coalition partners also think. But then speeches win headlines, vaccines not so much.
Ministers, the rule breakers
After having called in the military to assist in implementing the Covid-19 SOPs, it is the government ministers who are seen defying the rules even as the much-celebrated Corona Tiger Force, which we were told last April will wage jihad against coronavirus, is nowhere to be heard of. Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the health minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is booked for violation of Covid SOPs at an iftar party. Jhagra then explains how he didn’t know much about the private gathering or its location. How then did he reach the venue is a mystery. Fascinating indeed. But he is still proud to be booked by his own government. Wait till he is arrested or given ‘murgha’ punishment like any ordinary SOP violators.
In another event, Maulana Tariq Jameel, a close religious aide to PM Imran Khan, launched his flagship fashion brand in Karachi. Offering 20 per cent off on the collection, the inauguration ceremony invited Covid SOP violations. But glad that no action was taken against him for the fashion line is intended to financially support madrassas in Pakistan. The idea which came to him during the pandemic, he has told.
Where is the vaccination policy?
As the world continues to vaccinate people, the Pakistan government is criticised for over-relying and waiting on handouts and aids rather than procuring vaccines on its own as promised. With no clear policy layout, it was told last month that the government plans to deal with the challenge through herd immunity and donated vaccines. “That there was no plan to buy vaccines at least during the current year.” Which now the government says it has signed contracts with at least three companies for vaccination. Pakistan has received a million doses of Sinopharm, half of which were gifted by China and the other half bought by the government. While the private sector that secured Sputnik V and CanSino has now run out of vaccines. So far, 2.1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered, according to the Pakistan government.
Negligence in procuring vaccines in time on one hand, and addressing the issue of vaccine hesitancy on the other. That’s where Pakistan stands today. Vaccinating 70 per cent of the population to deal with Covid-19 is what the world hopes to achieve. But in Pakistan, vaccine hesitancy is pervasive — we have people who still believe that coronavirus isn’t a real thing. The theories about 5G: that the pandemic is part of a notorious plan of people like Bill Gates and the idea is to roll out vaccinations containing tracking chips that will then be activated using the 5G technology. This is believed even in a country that doesn’t even have 5G. Or that the virus is a drama, all persist even after a year of havoc.
Pakistan, over the years, has seen its polio vaccination fall out due to the conspiracy theories that surround it ever since the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. From claims that vaccinations result in impotency, that they are made with pig blood and are un-Islamic or that America/Israel want to damage the pure race. The sentiment has only gained strength while increasing attacks on polio teams in the country. Last year, Pakistan reported 84 cases of polio and 146 cases in 2019. After Afghanistan, Pakistan is the only other country where polio virus remains endemic.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)
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