If Islamabad’s decision not to evacuate its students studying in Wuhan–the epicenter of the Coronavirus epidemic, reflects sheer irresponsibility then the reasons that it has given for doing so are even more appalling. How can a democratically government that’s supposed to be “Of, By and For the People,” abdicate its constitutional responsibility in such a casual manner? How can anyone ever expect that Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza’s pontification about the weird choice of ruling out evacuation from Wuhan on the grounds that “it is in the larger interest of the region, world, country” allay the genuine fears of effected students or their distraught parents?
Dr Mirza did speak about how the “(Pakistan) government cares about its citizens just as much as their own families.” But by going on to suggest that evacuation of Pakistani students from Coronavirus -hit Wuhan would amount to be taking “an emotional decision and become a reason for the spread of this disease,” he only ended up exposing Islamabad’s complete apathy for its own citizens. It’s no secret that Pakistan can’t survive without the political and financial support that it’s been receiving so generously from China and therefore, one can well understand Islamabad’s compulsion of faithfully toeing Beijing’s line.
But then, even subservience has a limit, which is why Islamabad’s inexplicable willingness to put its own citizens in peril is something that defies logical explanation. Dr Mirza’s apologetic defence of Islamabad’s decision against evacuation of its citizens from Wuhan on the grounds that “… this is China’s policy and this is our policy as well. We stand by China in full solidarity,” is really pathetic, to say the least. Furthermore, by saying “Right now the government of China has contained this epidemic in Wuhan city,” the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health has committed the unpardonable sin of officially spreading misinformation amongst the people just to please Beijing.
To coverup the absolute abdication of its constitutional responsibility, Islamabad has (like always) avoided using the ‘bullet approach’ by being specific while justifying its actions and instead, is relying on the ‘buckshot strategy’ of peppering its domestic audience of a wide-ranging array of rather poor excuses. Dr Mirza categorically ruled out evacuation by saying that “If we act irresponsibly and start evacuating people from there, this epidemic will spread all over the world like wildfire.” But Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said that Pakistani nationals were stranded at Urumqi airport due to a flight delay adding that “Pakistani government was making an all-out effort for its citizens,” but didn’t elaborate what these “all-out” efforts were!
Today, almost everyone in authority in Pakistan is busy giving explanations ranging from the pedestrian to the bizarre, whereas Islamabad’s plea is that since no advisory on evacuation of people has been issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) its stance is vindicated. Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi has invoked Islam to justify Islamabad’s decision of leaving hundreds of hapless Pakistanis in China to their own device. Consider his tweet: “Prophet’s directions regarding disease outbreaks are a good guide even 2day. If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it, but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place” (Bukhari & Muslim). One wonders whether his tweet will help those stuck in China and will be able to comfort those who are staring coronavirus in its face and begging the Government of Pakistan to evacuate them.
With Pakistan’s Ambassador in Beijing Naghmana Hashmi saying that “medical facilities in Pakistan do not meet the standards (essential for tackling coronavirus)” and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health countering this by stating that Pakistan is fully prepared to combat any outbreak of coronavirus, things have become even more confusing. But the truth isn’t very hard to find. Islamabad may hide behind the absence of any WHO advisory on evacuation from areas where coronavirus infection has been reported, but when other neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh have commenced evacuating their nationals from China, Islamabad’s refusal to follow suit makes no sense. However, a clue that could decode Pakistan’s refusal to consider evacuation of its nationals can be found in Dr Mirza’s “We stand by China in full solidarity” announcement.
With Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing thanking Pakistan for extending unwavering support by honouring Beijing’s request against evacuation of its nationals, it becomes absolutely clear that the sole reason for Islamabad’s skewed decision on evacuating its nationals from coronavirus hit areas is to ensure appeasement of its “all weather friend.” As on date, at least five Pakistani nationals in China have contracted coronavirus and since Islamabad is not considering evacuating its nationals from there, this number could grow. One only hopes that good sense prevails quickly and unconditional subservience of Pakistani leadership is replaced by a sense of responsibility towards the people so that the mental and physical ordeal of the hapless Pakistani nationals trapped in China has a happy ending.
Tailpiece—It’s high time Prime Minister Imran Khan realised that no matter how ‘weatherproof’ or ‘sweet’ Islamabad’s friendship with Beijing may be, he has no moral right to play with the health and lives of Pakistani nationals just to keep China happy. The Pakistan Army may have abandoned its dead during the 1999 Kargil conflict, but it could do so because Rawalpindi isn’t answerable to anyone. The legislature is certainly accountable to the people and so, unlike the military, Khan cannot leave his countrymen in China to their fate. Let’s not forget that come what may, humans can never be rendered disposable by ‘larger’ interests!