- by Mehr Tarar
Another Monday morning in the time of coronavirus. What should I write if I have to write? If I must write. I find it cathartic, the process of writing. The personal encapsulation of an issue that matters to me. Something that must be chronicled for the sheer immensity of its existence. Emotional wording of an event that deeply moved me, something I wish the world to not forget.
I write on incidents that many angrily pontificate over for a couple of days until something more sensational catches their attention on their streamlined timelines. An ending of a life that mattered so little when it was that its obituary was a short-lived lament. So many young and old and healthy and frail dying like characters of a summer blockbuster in which a deadly virus runs amok on earth. Murders of little girls, celebrities ending their lives for reasons they take with them, the stark loneliness of humanity as coronavirus rewrites rules of interaction, young people dying of COVID-19, leaving bereaved spouses and children, too baffled to be fully aware of the hugeness of what has happened to them. What is there to write about that is beyond all that? Not much.
Nine days since I discovered that I was COVID-19 positive. Asymptomatic after one day of medication, my gratitude to Allah is so immense I consider every pain-free morning a blessing. Today, I started a 20-minute walk in my room. Tomorrow, I’ll walk outside on the terrace. I sleep a lot, I feel a little weak, I don’t take any medication other than a calcium and vitamin C supplement, I eat carefully, I stay in isolation. My son, my family are always there. A few metres, a text, a call away. I want to hug my son and niece and nephews and dogs. Soon, InshaAllah. To have COVID-19 and be without pain, every breath that I take is a thank-you Allah.
One day at a time.
Last night, I came across a report written in Urdu. A few minutes later, someone sent me a video of a news report that was aired on the Pakistani channel Abb Takk. Both were about the same thing: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s expenses in the Prime Minister House and at his home in Bani Gala, Islamabad. Amidst the growing panic of the increasing number of the coronavirus cases and the debate about lockdown, smart lockdown, selected lockdown and how-much-of-a-lockdown-is-good-for-a-developing country, the report written in Urdu and the video made me think.
Here was something positive in the time of coronavirus. Our lives can’t be just about COVID-19 positive diagnoses and fretting about the unknown tomorrow. As we plan our treatments, and our isolations, and our resources-limited summer months, fully aware that our lives can end without a notification, I do not plan to ignore any lovely get-well-soon message that I receive, or the good things that are happening in my country.
While infection rages through Pakistan, scaring people and creating uncertainty, there is one thing that remains unchanged for me: my confidence in Prime Minister Imran Khan to do what is best for the people of Pakistan. This is not the blind devotion of a political follower, the biased opinion of a party supporter, or wishful thinking of a long-time Imran Khan fan.
Counting days until I have my next coronavirus test, my priorities have been redefined without much ado. I want what is best for my son. I want what is best for my loved ones. I want what is best for my Pakistan. I want to live my life to the fullest, with empathy, with focus, with every day-as-a-blessing mantra enveloping every word that I write, every step that I take, every sentence that I utter. Pakistan is in the coronavirus-wreaked chaos right now. Much could have been done better, starting from better testing-treating-tracing of the coronavirus cases since March to the May easing of lockdown. The bitter truth of that is undeniable. And it is a lot to learn from.
What is also true is that not for a moment has Prime Minister Khan been apathetic to the wellbeing of the 220 million Pakistanis. Not for an hour has Prime Minister Khan been indifferent to the agony of the millions of people who couldn’t have survived a long lockdown. Not for a day has Prime Minister Khan been oblivious to the growing panic of COVID-19 and its daily and long-term handling. His focus has been linear. His attention has been unwavering. His communication with the nation is unbroken. Pakistan is in a lot of pain, but there is one silver lining: Pakistan’s prime minister is with the Pakistanis every step of their coronavirus delineated journey.
The Prime Minister expense report is not an election slogan. It is not a feel-good ministry of information memorandum. It is not edited to look good. It is what it is. The one manifestation of the playbook that Khan has rewritten on how a prime minister is to live his life while in power. It is also a testimonial of the principles of simplicity and austerity that have been Khan’s decades-long political mantra. It is a black and white reiteration of Khan’s vow of never to misuse the taxpayers’ money of the developing Pakistan in which the difference between the lives of the tiny ruling elite and millions of people is so glaring any smart metaphor would be redundant.
Is Khan the first prime minister to practise austerity? Will Khan be the one to set the rules for paying from his own pocket the expenses of the prime minister’s residence? Is Khan the only prime minister who has walked the talk, who has translated words into action? Time will tell. Khan doesn’t need sanctimonious titles and a halo. He is very much human, fully aware of his shortcomings and missteps, always determined to do his best for Pakistan. What I’m going to do is list the points that are mentioned in the report I read last night.
Does Khan practise what he preaches? Is Khan fully cognizant of the reality of Pakistan’s economic difficulties? Does Khan place self before the nation or the nation before self? You be a judge.
Straight from the report:
Payment from his personal funds of all expenses of the Prime Minister residence
Payment of salaries of staff, and utilities and security bills from prime minister’s personal funds
Practising austerity, the decrease–reportedly, the lowest in Pakistan’s history–in the number of the staff of the Prime Minister Office
18-crore annual reduction in the expenses of the PMO
During Nawaz Sharif’s last tenure, the bill to state treasury for security: eight billion rupees
For the first time ever, only one office for the prime minister, and no camp office. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s camp offices in Islamabad, Raiwind and Model Town, Lahore, and Murree
PPP’s prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and president Asif Zardari’s offices in Multan and Karachi
In foreign trips, Prime minister Imran Khan’s demonstration of the same principles of austerity and minimum expenses
Cost of Khan’s five-day trip to Washington as prime minister: $67,180
Cost of Asif Zardari’s two-day trip to Washington in May 2009 as president: $752,688
Cost of Nawaz Sharif’s three-day trip to Washington in October 2013: $549,853
Cost of Prime Minister Khan’s September 2019 official trip to New York: $162,578
Cost of Zardari’s New York trip: $1,309,620
Cost of Nawaz Sharif’s New York trip: $1,113,142
Cost of PML-N Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s New York trip: $705,000
Instructions to all ministries for minimisation of expenses and saved funds to be returned to the state treasury
Prohibition of the protocol of large official motorcades
Suspension of expenses for guest entertainment in ministries
Unimpeachable, accountable distribution of funds allocated for welfare of the underprivileged
I trust Prime Minister Imran Khan to be the leader Pakistan needs in the time of the coronavirus, and beyond. I trust him because everything he does is for the good of Pakistan. Khan has my vote and support as long as his single-minded focus is the wellbeing of the 220 million Pakistanis.
One day at a time. And long term.
Stay safe, Pakistan.
Stay safe, world.