Women wearing facemasks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus walk along a street in Rawalpindi on March 13, 2020.
Women wearing facemasks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus walk along a street in Rawalpindi on March 13, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

One day ago, Editor Dawn Fahd Husain wrote an article, ostensibly, on coronavirus, quoting no one and Martians. The purpose, what it appears to any neutral reader, was to provide his personal views, daintily camouflaged in measured lexicon that is an advanced course in triple entendre, as the editor of, the newspaper with, reportedly, the largest circulation. At the end of the first paragraph, the editor Dawn “reproduced” the words of the chief minister of the largest province of Pakistan that evokes an immediate question: Likhne so pehle verify kya hai? (Did you verify before you wrote?)

A rebuttal of Husain’s tirade is redundant, ideally. Ascribing words to a politician is not a novel phenomenon, and media reports quoting an unnamed source are a common journalistic practice. There is also a global practice that is the fundamental of journalistic reporting: due verification. There is another global journalistic practice: in the absence of a first-person account, all information presented as hard facts is supported by one of the three: name of the information-giver, addition of the disclaimer “unnamed” if the source wishes to maintain his/her identity, and the disclaimer with the prefix “reportedly” and/or “allegedly”. The distinction between a newspaper or a TV channel that prides itself on its integrity and scrupulousness to dignity of truth and a two-bit tabloid is a very fine line: personal opinions and biases are not published as verified, authenticated news or information.

Fahd Husain, in his article, has done exactly that: presentation of personal views, biases and judgments as authenticated journalism. It is nothing less than a social and a moral crime even if it is not brought into the domain of the demand of an official apology or a legal reprimand through a libel case. What has been presented as the words of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is not the personal opinion of an unknown commentator. What is placed in quotation marks is published in the newspaper that had been for, a long time, a champion of truth, and has been for, a few years, entangled in a battle of substantiation of its credentials.

Out of the ten countries most affected by coronavirus, COVID-19, excluding China and the USA, the respective population in its entirety of the eight countries is not even close to Punjab, one of the four provinces of Pakistan

- Mehr Tarar

Husain’s assertion that Buzdar is unaware of the fundamentals of a global pandemic–which even seven-year-olds and literal illiterates are cognizant of toady–do not merely mock the position of the chief minister of the largest province of Pakistan. Husain’s words are a direct attack on the capability and integrity of the chief minister of Punjab of 110,012,442 people. That is more than 110 million people.

Let that sink in. Out of the ten countries most affected by coronavirus, COVID-19, excluding China and the USA, the respective population in its entirety of the eight countries is not even close to Punjab, one of the four provinces of Pakistan: Italy is 60.8 million; Iran 81.16; Spain 46.66; Germany 82.79; France 66.99; South Korea 51.47; Switzerland 8.57 million; and United Kingdom 66.44.

The world of 2020, shaken by the once-in-a-century pathogen, the China-originated outbreak of a virus that defying scientific and medical advancements has turned into a global pandemic, has many unanswered and unanswerable questions, confusions, ambiguities. All over the world, there is also an outbreak of hearsay, rumours, exaggerated reports, fanciful remedies, local totkas, and ludicrous claims. That is expected in a world of 7.53 billion people. They are terrified. They seek answers. They look for reassurance. And they need medical assistance if infected. Those who sell sensationalism and revel in divisions made for political relevance and personal aggrandisement do not have a place in the world shaken to its vulnerable, fragile mortal core in March 2020. Falsified reports exacerbate the sense of isolation and personal agony.

Husain’s article is a lament on the “inefficiency” of Chief Minister Buzdar, and the inability of Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government to handle the terrifying reality of COVID-19. Ignoring the reality of an inherited healthcare system that is debilitated in its micro and macro elements, Husain’s attack on Prime Minister’s Khan’s government’s failure to have the required number of “ventilators, diagnostic testing kits, and Personal Protection Equipment” is a barely disguised defence of the two major opposition parties, PPP and PML-N, that reeling from their recent political irrelevance require flaky endorsements and protestations against the NAB accountability processes against them.

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The Punjab government has sent a legal notice to Fahd Husain for “baseless” content.

In his article, Husain writes: “Nothing could better illustrate the state of affairs in Punjab today than this simple question asked by the head of the province about a crisis that has nothing simple about it.”

The reality is far from that. The work of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is not a fairy tale. It is a combination of careful planning, meticulous execution, conscientious checking and improvement, and is strictly transparent. Buzdar is not a man of many words, fantastical rhetoric and empty promises. Working unobtrusively with his competent cabinet and team of advisers, he is following the tradition of the erudite and the farsighted: actions speak louder than words.

Beyond the fallacious reportage, the empathetic work ethic of Chief Minister Buzdar, under the leadership of Prime Minister Khan, is manifested in tangible action.

The fact: On January 3, Chief Minister Buzdar spoke to his cabinet about the coronavirus outbreak. That was the time when there was not any known fear of coronavirus reaching Pakistan. On January 15, he formed a special cabinet committee to take into consideration the logistical and economic aspects of combating COVID-19. In the middle of February, on Buzdar’s special instruction, an allocation of Rs 236 million was made to the health ministry for the updating with required equipment of hospitals and quarantine centres in Punjab. Later, that amount was increased to Rs one billion. Currently, the Punjab government COVID-19 fund is Rs 7.62 billion.

The fact: In Punjab, isolation centres and High Dependency Units have been established in 41 hospitals. In every district, one or two HDUs are operational. Three hospitals in Punjab–Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital, Muzaffargarh; Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute, Lahore; and Institute of Urology and Kidney Transplant, Rawalpindi–have been fully converted into COVID-19 treatment centres. Recently, Chief Minister Buzdar made a special visit for a thorough assessment of the capability of the specialised hospitals.

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The fact: Punjab is home to 60 percent of Pakistan’s population. Merely five days ago, there was not even a suspected case of COVID-19. Sindh, unfortunately, has the highest number of reported cases of 213; the cases in Punjab are 78, as per the last report. In the time of a global pandemic, all those suffering in Pakistan are Pakistanis. The affected are not the cold statistics of ethnicities and geographical identities. That is the message of Prime Minister Khan and Chief Minister Buzdar.

The fact: From the day it became a matter of concern in Pakistan to the last reported case in Punjab, the conscientiousness of Chief Minister Buzdar and his team that is doing its best, in the limited capacity of a years-long emaciated economy, is the driving force behind all the required steps within the global protocol of COVID-19 preventive and medical care.

The fact: In a recent meeting of an apex committee, the directive to close all tourist locations, including Murree, has been issued. In the first phase, all shops, restaurants and hotels will be closed at 10pm. In the case of further spread of coronavirus, a more stringent shutdown will be enforced. The final stage will be the complete shutdown, barring pharmacies, supermarkets and grocery stores. All educational institutions have been closed. If required, campuses of some colleges and universities will be converted into quarantine centres.

The fact: Every day, Chief Minister Buzdar heads a cabinet meeting to have an updated review of the spread and prevention of COVID-19 in Punjab. On March 18, he visited the Dera Ghazi Khan quarantine centre.

The fact: The only chief minister of Pakistan who has instructed the use of the Punjab government helicopter in COVID-19 war is Usman Buzdar.

Slowly, the world is uniting in its COVID-19-infected, compassionate solidarity. Pakistan must do the same. Personal biases, unfair judgments, and political point scoring must take a beat seat when the agenda is national, regional and global safety of human life. In 2020, journalism does not have forty shades of grey. Yellow is still yellow. Journalism, in the time of corona war, is not a sensational clickbait. Journalism, today, is the mirror of humanity, with its beauty and warts. Journalism, pointing out the real flaws, while suggesting course correcting, is a message of realistic optimism, and rational rehabilitation.

Pakistan is fighting the corona war with cautious hope juxtaposed with the best preventive measures and medical treatment. Pakistan must unite to do that. There is no other way to win the corona war. In Pakistan or anywhere else.

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