The coronavirus pandemic has posed a serious threat to public life and health in Pakistan, but it has also provided one-in-a-life-time opportunity to the state and society to fix many things and improve the quality of governance and standard of life.
The virus has not only claimed several lives but is spreading steadily in the country. As there is no cure for the virus and the only way is to improve the quality of life, governance and transform life-long habits particularly of hygiene, there is a lot what could be done at the individual, community, societal and state level to ward off the threat, not only of the coronavirus but also of many other diseases and conflicts that presently are faced by the people, society and the country.
The foremost opportunity which the pandemic has created for the people, communities and the government is to improve the standards of hygiene and cleanliness. There is no denying the fact that as a people, society and country, Pakistanis have been quite unhygienic. This is despite the fact that water, the main source of cleanliness, has been available in abundance in Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistanis have been ruthlessly wasting away the precious resource, not for hygiene and cleanliness but absurd purposes, like sprinkling streets to temporarily suppress the dirt and dust. Resultantly, we have lost a lot of our water resources and this is evident from the ever-receding water table across Pakistan. Now, there is an opportunity for Pakistanis to understand how to preserve water and how to make the best use of the resource by adroitly using it for personal and environmental cleanliness.
What the coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that there must be a considerable level of social distancing in order to avoid the risk of getting affected by the disease. Here, it is important to note that whether Pakistani cities or villages almost everywhere one could see dense overcrowding. The overcrowding is the result of overpopulation. Overcrowding is not only the source of many contagious diseases but also many conflicts and feuds, whether at the community or family levels. So, overcrowding needs to be avoided and this is even enjoined by our great religion, Islam. According to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) there should be a limit to the size of a community and if it gets oversized a new town shall be founded.
Overcrowding denies not only social space to individuals but also results in a number of diseases. The denial of social space and risk of contracting diseases warrant that there should not be any overcrowding. However, as pointed out, overcrowding is largely the result of overpopulation, therefore, now as a society and a people we must think that to what an extent we could increase the number of children when the situation is not at all conducive for their safety and security. It may also be mentioned that overcrowding is also the result of an archaic social system of communities in Pakistan. In the social system, most people wish to live in their respective tribal and local communities. It discourages social and economic mobility in many respects, which impedes development as a whole. Therefore, the people must also think over the pitfalls of overcrowding as a result of the conservative and archaic social system.
Social distancing has much to do with the social concept or idea of individualism. Pakistan, as a society, has a collectivist culture where individual interests and rights are of least importance. An individual is dominated by collectivistic values and institutions, like living and dining at once. Likewise, families, communities, tribes and the nation are considered more important than individuals and their interests. In the situation, social distancing is well-nigh impossible, as historically and culturally, individuals are not considered or they do not deem themselves as powerful enough to alone pass their time or carry out routine affairs. Although Islam calls for the unity of Muslims, yet it is not at all against individualism as is generally perceived. Welfare, development and the care of individuals are considered prime important in our religion. However, there is large-scale misperception about individualism as this is something totally Western. In fact, individualism does not mean to be selfish or self-centred and not to be considerate towards others or altruistic. So, there is a need that people must develop the capacity of individualism which is indeed a very positive energy and makes the people to be independent and self-confident in the hour of need.
Another important aspect of the situation created by the coronavirus pandemic is Pakistan’s healthcare. Whether in the public sector or the private sector, the health system of Pakistan was quite exposed by the pandemic. It could be gauged from the fact that even an entire province could not properly quarantine a few hundred people on their return from a foreign land. If, God forbid, the number of coronavirus patients increases, our healthcare system would be highly stressed. Given the huge population of Pakistan, the country needs a large number of hospitals and healthcare units and that too with state-of-the-art facilities. There is every possibility that in future more such diseases would surface. For it, short, long and medium-term planning is necessary.
The role of citizens in the context of the coronavirus pandemic has also been quite important. However, one observed that citizens largely behaved very callously and insensitively to what the situation demanded. They seemed to be unaware of their safety and rights on one hand, and their duties as responsible members of society, on the other. Repeated appeals from the government and authorities to remain in self-confinement and isolation all fell on deaf ears. A state and its people could only have multidimensional security if a majority, if not all the citizens, know their rights and responsibilities. It may be understandable if the majority of Pakistanis have not been paying their taxes as they have had legitimate demands from the government, which have always remained unaddressed. However, when it comes to personal safety and health, the citizens should have behaved very responsibly.
There is a need to create awareness among the people about their civic rights and responsibilities and in this connection our educational system as well as all traditional sources of authorities have to play their critical role. However, one has been seeing that clerics, who have considerable social influence, have been advising the people otherwise and asked them to defy government orders.
So there is a host of opportunities in the situation created by the coronavirus to improve and fix matters by transforming our values, institutions, technology and traditions. However, it would not happen itself and the governments at the federal, provincial and authorities at the local level have to play a critical role in this regard. The panacea is good governance and this is really not as easy as it sounds but a lot of homework and policy planning and implementation on the part of governments could lead the way after support from civil society, academia, media and other important social stakeholders.