Pakistan has what the rest of the world doesn’t. But don’t think too much: it’s not something that Pakistan actually has. The Imran Khan government is merely using them to sell itself as a caretaker in these uncertain times. They are tigers — extinct in real life, but living in Pakistan’s imagination.
The government has instituted a Corona Relief Tiger Force, which currently has more than 8,00,000 ‘registered members’. Whether they are real or paper tigers, we would have to wait and see. But these volunteers comprise students, social workers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists and even retired armed forces personnel, according to official details.
Perhaps Pakistan’s more serious bodies dealing with the coronavirus crisis in the country — such as National Security Committee, National Coordination Committee, National Command and Operation Centre — weren’t up to the task. It seems the Corona Relief Tiger Force was just what the doctor prescribed.
PM’s love for tigers
The soon-to-be-activated force was first announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan last month in his two ‘F’s strategy to fight the coronavirus: Fund for corona and Force of tigers. Funding from overseas Pakistanis has been the cornerstone of Imran Khan’s strategy to solve any problem in his philanthropic or political life. Tigers are mandated to first identify needy people — they’ll find out who is unemployed, then go door-to-door and give out ration, and spread awareness regarding safety measures.
Tigers have been PM Imran Khan’s go-to metaphor since forever — not counting the tigers once photographed in his bedroom or his pet dog named Tiger. In 1993, back in the days of charity campaigning for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, “Imran’s Tiger” badges were handed as a token of appreciation to school children who collected substantial donations. These yellow-coloured badges were worn with pride by the kids who now officially considered themselves ‘Imran’s tiger’. Then in 2008, Imran’s Tiger was revamped to become Shaukat Khanum Tigers’ Club to acknowledge the charity work done by children and youngsters to fulfil the goals of the cancer hospital.
Fighting coronavirus with paper tigers
Fast forward to 2020 and Imran Khan is now recruiting Tigers to do jihad against the coronavirus. However, neither are the Tigers benign anymore nor is the pandemic, which they are up against.
I want our youth to play their role in helping our fight against the COVID 19 by joining our Corona Tiger Force which will be organised to do jihad against the suffering caused by this pandemic
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 1, 2020
Divisive in nature, the relief force tends to give a clear signal: if you are a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporter, you are welcome to become a Tiger and don an alleged t-shirt in party flag colours of green, red and white. But who will dare break it to Imran Khan that he is now the PM of Pakistan and not of Shuakat Khanum or Tehreek-e-Insaf?
And if you thought the Imran Khan government was capable of using the funds from the relief force for something good, think again: there are fears that the money will be spent on manufacturing t-shirts for the volunteers, fears that the government denies. People on social media have rightly called the recruitment, training and deployment of Tigers a waste of money, which could have been instead used to buy protective gears for the doctors.
Doctors and paramedic staff across Pakistan have been demanding personal protective equipment (PPE) and other facilities to help treat the patients. But what did the Imran Khan government do? In Quetta, Balochistan, doctors demanding protective gears were baton-charged and more than 50 of them were later arrested. Elsewhere, doctors protesting by wearing garbage or plastic shopping bags to highlight the lack of gloves and masks have been issued show cause notices.
When countries around the world are focusing on strengthening the healthcare system and helping their doctors — the first line of defence against the coronavirus — Pakistan is empowering paper Tigers. It is by floating political ideas such as these that the PTI government makes people accuse it of not being serious — that is, when they aren’t pointing out its ill-preparedness to deal with the pandemic.
Putting young in danger
The work that the government plans to get done through the Corona Relief Tiger Force is something that grassroots local bodies are equipped to do. There are several governmental, non-governmental and religious organisations with millions of volunteers distributing rations, which the PTI thinks its Tigers should do.
To justify it by saying that Pakistan has a large population of young people who would want to help with the fight against coronavirus or by that they did enormous relief work during floods and earthquakes and so they can do it in this case too is beyond stupid. For one, the nature of the pandemic is different from a natural disaster. Young people without proper training and protection will be at risk of getting infected, and the number of positive Covid-19 cases will keep rising. But does this government even think?
Is it a good idea for the PTI government to get sidetracked like this in the middle of a pandemic? The answer is clear. PM Imran Khan sees coronavirus as an opportunity for his party members, whom he has been telling that by engaging in acts of charity and welfare — they just have to put up a show — they can have an edge over their political opponents. The members, in return, must be expecting a personalised Tiger badge if they do well during coronavirus.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.