Is Islamabad deliberately mishandling Covid-19 in Balochistan ?

A Baloch doctor has to wrap himself with polythene sheets while examining patients kept under quarantine in Balochistan.
A Baloch doctor has to wrap himself with polythene sheets while examining patients kept under quarantine in Balochistan.

In times of Coronavirus, when rumour mills are working overtime and social media is pregnant with stories of sinister plots and intrigue, one has learnt to be more discerning when it comes to believing conspiracy theories. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t think much of a piece titled “Pakistan is using Coronavirus as a Biological Weapon against Balochistan” written by Dr Murad Baloch that appeared in the media last week. I would probably have missed out the weighty import of Dr Baloch’s incisive insight had Pakistan Health Minister Zafar Mirza not tried to use the SAARC video conference forum on Coronavirus to rake up the issue of Kashmir in a rather fatuous manner.

However, it was a comment by a reader advising Mirza to focus more on tackling the Coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan rather than worrying about Kashmir that got me thinking. After seeing a proud man like Prime Minister Imran Khan literally going down on his knees and begging the world community “to think of some sort of a debt write-off for countries like us which are very vulnerable,” the reader’s suggestion made even more sense.

But from Islamabad’s clumsy effort to justify its Kashmir remarks made during the SAARC video conference it became more than evident that Khan’s “concern over poverty and hunger as a consequence of the corona pandemic,” was nothing but mere posturing necessitated by his promise of raising Kashmir on every occasion, despite being repeatedly humiliated!

Since Covid-19 spreads through humans, it would be reasonable to assume that transmission of this contagion is to some extent proportional to the population density of the region, as the data of Pakistan’s top two regions (in terms of population density) indicates. Punjab, which is Pakistan’s most populous province with a population density of 353 person per square kilometre has reported a total of 335 Coronavirus cases. Though Sindh, with a marginally lower population density (340 persons per square kilometre) has reported a relatively higher number of Coronavirus cases (421), this variation isn’t absolutely out of tune as this in all probability is due to a corresponding variation in the number of individuals screened. 

But surprisingly, Balochistan, which has an unbelievably low and only a two-digit population density of just 36 people per kilometre has reported a whopping 131 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Being grossly disproportionate to the miniscule population density by any standards, this unusually high number of Coronavirus infected cases should have set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad. But since no such thing has happened, and for Khan it’s business as usual as far as Balochistan is concerned, there are all the reasons to suspect that something is amiss. Failure of the government to institute appropriate preventive measures for arresting rapid proliferation of Coronavirus in Balochistan lends greater credence to Dr Baloch’s assertion that Islamabad is using Coronavirus as a biological weapon in Balochistan. 

But is this really so?

Whereas it’s highly improbable that Islamabad could anyway be involved in physically infecting Baloch with the novel Coronavirus, but there are bright chances that it may be achieving the same results through indirect means. Media reports of the squalid conditions existing in Balochistan’s Taftan Coronavirus camp reinforces suspicions that the sorry state of affairs is certainly due to something more than sheer apathy.

Quoting doctors, former inmates and other witnesses, ‘The Guardian’ details how due to “lax regulations on movement for those in the camp… Hundreds of people supposedly under lockdown left the camp to shop at local markets and stores, buying food and returning to the camp without any checks.” To make matters even worse, “No guidelines were issued for how those in quarantine could protect themselves from getting the disease, and there was no running water for people to wash their hands.” The ultimate tragedy is that even the condition of hospitals in Balochistan is no better, with a doctor describing the situation there as “depressing and disturbing.”

Islamabad could have been given benefit of doubt by assigning its failure to provide Balochistan with an effective setup for combating Coronavirus, to the unprecedented panic and chaos caused by COVID 19 outbreak. But considering its highly discriminatory past track record of dealing with the Baloch nationals there’s no scope of making any allowances in this regard.

Readers may recall that in third week of September 2013, Balochistan was hit by two massive earthquakes that killed nearly 700 people and left about 1,000 injured. But despite the widespread suffering caused, the government of Pakistan refused to allow international NGOs from undertaking the much-needed relief activities on the premise that following this disaster, Baloch militants were attacking security forces.

Whereas this is certainly true, but the fact that not even a single aid worker had been targeted by militants is something that Islamabad didn’t make public. While various NGOs of international repute like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) sought government permission for carrying out relief work here and Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch himself wrote a letter to Islamabad seeking permission to allow international aid agencies to undertake relief effort, permission wasn’t granted and the quake-ravaged Baloch nationals were left to their own device for facing the fast approaching harsh winters.

With the needle of suspicion that Islamabad’s apathy towards Balochistan is motivated and directly pointing at it, the ball is squarely in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s court!

Tailpiece– Before take-off, the flight attendant invariably advises passengers that they must first wear their own face mask before trying to help others in doing so. Perhaps Khan will be a much happier man if he did the same and put Pakistan first by evacuating the 600 odd Pakistani students stranded in China’s Wuhan province and setting Balochistan in order before shedding crocodile tears on Kashmir!


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