Analysis / 24.08.2020

Official figures suggest that the pandemic has abated in Pakistan. This is welcome news but we need to be sure. It would be unfortunate either if the verdict is wrong or if real gains are undone through premature relaxation.  I have some misgivings based on observations since the beginning of the epidemic. At the outset I noted the remarkably casual attitude of individuals implementing measures to control the disease with many not following SOPs themselves.  I then tracked the case of a neighbour who tested positive for Covid-19 in a house with eight other residents. No one from the local health authorities called for contact tracing. A few days later the person died in a hospital. Still, no one in the house was traced and tested. I encountered families who let symptomatic elders die at home rather than visit a hospital or be tested preferring a ‘proper’ burial...

Analysis / 04.08.2020

The Coronavirus pandemic is bad enough but, as dozens of countries have demonstrated, it can be controlled -- there were just 3 new cases in Sri Lanka on June 12. Even in places where the number of infected persons was very large before the alert was sounded, Italy for example, new cases per day have dropped from 6,557 on March 21 to 163 on June 12. In Pakistan, they continue to rise -- from 144 on March 21 to 6,397, the highest to date, on June 12. What makes the pandemic so recalcitrant in Pakistan, where the initial cases were minimal for lack of tourists, are the epidemics within the epidemics.  The first of these is the blight of ignorance. A country where the majority cannot verify information for itself is hugely handicapped. All it should take is a visit to one of the many data...

Analysis / 01.08.2020

While the pandemic has months to run, enough time has passed since its inception to render an interim judgement on its management in Pakistan and India. Despite giving the governments as much benefit of doubt as I possibly can, I am afraid I have to assign both a failing grade. The governments would no doubt contest this award so let me justify my verdict. As always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating so let us look at the actual situation at this time. Both countries are reporting the highest number of deaths per day to date -- Pakistan over a 100 and India close to 400. Despite everything they have thrown at it, the graph of new cases continues to rise and their number exceeds the number of new recoveries so the load on hospitals continues to grow. Unlike most other countries, where...

Analysis / 21.07.2020

  Introduction Mr. Javed Jabbar has posted a public video titled “Two Nation Reality” to refute certain statements about Pakistan by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. I feel the issues raised in this exchange are worthy of a detailed analysis. In this introduction I wish to explain my motivation for undertaking this analysis and laying out how I have organized it. The video was forwarded to me with a ‘must-watch’ label by someone whose opinion I respect. He was impressed by how Javed Jabbar had successfully refuted Pervez Hoodbhoy with infinite gentility. That statement intrigued me sufficiently to make an exception to my standard policy of deleting, without watching, all videos sent to me via social media. The issues debated in the exchange go to the heart of the controversies that are generally avoided in Pakistan much to our disadvantage. Mr. Jabbar’s initiative is therefore to be greatly appreciated and it becomes...

Analysis / 15.06.2020

The relatively low number of Covid-19 deaths reported in South Asia continue to puzzle analysts. While the low numbers might be true for reasons yet to be fully confirmed, there are now serious charges of undercounting.  Reports of undercounting have been circulating in India for a while but now an investigative piece in the London Telegraph has leveled charges of deliberate malfeasance. It claims to have seen written orders to a West Bengal hospital that in case of Covid-positive determinations, the cause is not be recorded on death certificates. A doctor at a government hospital in Cooch Behar is reported as saying: "We were ordered to strictly refrain from using the word 'Corona' in the death certificates until it gets a nod from the state government's opaque committee.” In Pakistan, doctors told the newspaper that “deaths were being undercounted because of stigma around the disease and...

Analysis / 19.05.2020

Between the commencement of Ramzan and the easing of the lockdown, I was at the wrong end of a rant for advocating the avoidance of congregations in mosques. A gentleman accused people like me of hypocrisy for continuing to drink at the Punjab Club while keeping the devout from visiting the House of God. I am not a member of the Punjab Club but was sufficiently intrigued to investigate what was going on there. I was informed that everything was closed except for the bakery and that home deliveries were continuing for members who wished to entertain and had sent their cooks home. It also came out that tennis had been restarted but a couple of days later a rather urgent message affirmed it was discontinued. This was the first time I had influenced an action in Pakistan though undoubtedly the outcome owed more to a...

Analysis / 05.05.2020

Whoever is advising the leadership on the Coronavirus epidemic is doing a poor job. The Prime Minister is reported as saying that the lockdown has been imposed by the uncaring “elites” because they feared the poor would carry the infection with them into the posh areas. However, he is said to have added that the outbreak has shown the disease does not discriminate; it affects everyone whether rich or poor implying that the “elites” are not just uncaring, they are also stupid.  Personally, one can agree that the “elites” (whoever they are) are uncaring and indifferent whenever anything outside their personal interests is involved. One can also agree that the lockdown, in the form it was implemented, was a bad decision; it was premature, driven by panic, and not sensitive to the specificities of local conditions. In particular, to the fact that, thanks to the “elites,” this...

Analysis / 02.05.2020

Pakistan, like many other countries, is flying dark in this Coronavirus pandemic. Very little is known for certain and what little is becoming known is not being factored into the decision-making. As a result, policies are are almost entirely reactive, based largely on fear, the happenings of the previous day, the push and pull of various influential lobbies. Given this muddle, the most blunt and expensive set of measures built around a country-wide lockdown have been imposed in the country in a knee-jerk mimicry of actions taken in countries like Italy where the virus spread with great rapidity.  There was not much contextual analysis of how feasible these set of measures might be in a country like Pakistan. To start with, a complete lockdown is an impossibility, a truth that can be confirmed by just venturing out to any market on any particular day. This is inevitable...

Analysis / 29.04.2020

A number of congratulatory articles have lauded the containment of the Covid epidemic in Pakistan based on the relatively smaller number of deaths to date (222) compared to those in the USA (47,973) and Italy (25,085). The authors have also offered a number of explanations for this difference ranging from outstanding management to contextual variations.  I would love these people to be right but would urge caution. The conclusion could be premature owing to a lack appreciation of the nature of exponential growth. Take a look at the number of Covid-related deaths in Pakistan. The first two were reported on March 18. Since then, the cumulative numbers at weekly intervals up to April 21 are as follows: 7, 26, 55, 96, 192. Ignoring the initial turbulence, the number of deaths are doubling roughly every seven days. The lockdown along with its associated measures went into effect on...

Analysis / 17.01.2020

What should be the allowance for discretion in the application of rules? This ought to be a contextual determination and one can use recent events in the worlds of cricket and politics to argue where the line ought to be drawn in Pakistan. Healthy institutions rely on discretion to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities when changing rules would consume valuable time causing opportunities to be lost. But there is a huge caveat in this simple formulation: that discretion is to be employed for a higher purpose and not self-interest. The more upright the office-bearers of an institution, the more the availability of discretion can lead to gains in efficiency and achievement. But what happens when office-bearers cannot be trusted to place institutional gains over self-interest? The damage from the abuse of discretion can result in losses far outweighing any possible gains from their legitimate use. In such...


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