Iran’s coronavirus response lapse has dearly cost Pakistan
The spread of coronavirus in Iran is an unfolding tragedy and Pakistan has been its victim, by default. Currently, there are 32,332 confirmed cases of infections and 2,378 persons have died in Iran of this deadly pandemic. Many observers believe that the Iran government has not been transparent about the real statistics.
Amir Afkhami, an associate professor at Georgetown University, claims that some mass graves were dug near the city of Qom late February to cover actual fatalities. These mass graves were discovered through satellite pictures. Even in the light of declared figures, Iran is number four in mortalities, after Italy, Spain and China.
Iranian cities of Qom and Mashhad were the epicenters of the disease. A large number of Pakistanis visit these cities for religious purposes. Today, Iran alone accounts for 90 percent of confirmed coronavirus infections in the Middle East. It is believed that in Pakistan, 78 percent of all infected cases had a travel history to Iran recently. It is a pity that the Iranian government did not inform Pakistani authorities about these infections in time. Otherwise, Pakistan’s government could have set up adequate testing and quarantine facilities at its Taftan border with Iran.
A medical problem ought to be resolved medically. Iran, however, opted to appoint a Revolutionary Guard commander to head its health command center. An Iranian airline managed and operated by the Revolutionary Guards continued its flights to China even after the outbreak of the epidemic there.
The footprint of novel coronavirus cases in Pakistan has clearly been Iranian. Earlier, had the Iranian authorities informed Pakistan in time, perhaps testing and quarantine facilities at Taftan border could have been improved and Pakistan’s health situation somewhat mitigated.
Unlike China, Iran simply refused to look after virus hit foreigners on its soil. Overwhelmed and reeling under sanctions, the Iranian government asked foreigners to leave for their own countries. A steep fall in oil prices has further diminished Iranian capacity to control the pandemic. While Prime Minister Imran Khan has appealed to the US to lift sanctions imposed on Iran to aid it in fighting this deadly virus, Washington didn’t oblige Imran Khan’s appeal.
The spread of coronavirus in Iran has been exponential. It is believed that large public rallies held throughout Iran on Feb. 24 on the eve of parliamentary elections promoted infections in a big way. The very first case was reported on Feb. 25 and in a span of a month, total infections had crossed 30,000. In Pakistan, the total tally, as of now, is over 1,400 cases, with 11 confirmed fatalities.
The footprint of novel coronavirus cases in Pakistan has clearly been Iranian, Earlier, had the Iranian authorities informed Pakistan in time, perhaps testing and quarantine facilities at Taftan border could have been improved and Pakistan’s heath situation somewhat mitigated. During this chaos and confusion at the border, several people entered Pakistan untested. It has been reported today that hundreds are still coming into Pakistan from Iran, though the border is officially closed. Despite clear lapses on the part of Iran, Pakistan has not protested. What could be the reason?
Post 1979, Pak-Iran relations have been sensitive. Iranian efforts to export its revolution to the countries of the region were viewed in Pakistan with suspicion. The Pak-Iran border was restive for some years and Pakistan wants to minimize its problems with Iran and its demographic sectarian make up also demands that matters with Tehran are handled carefully. This however, does not mean that Pakistan should not be firm with Iran, on matters of principle.
In view of this not too pleasant experience, it is necessary that Pakistan reviews the flow of traffic at its Taftan border check post, from various angles. It should also be vigilant about those who travel to Iran by air.
Medical facilities at the border posts on two sides, transit arrangements and boarding infrastructure should be improved. After all, Pakistani religious visitors are a regular source of income for Iran and their welfare must become a priority for Iranian authorities.
*Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.