Dengue in Pak: Conspiracy theories gain momentum

Lahore: As the Punjab provincial government here grapples with the dengue menace, conspiracy theories are abound with some blaming the origin of the disease on the American spy agency CIA while others claim it is because of "God's annoyance with Pakistanis."

Some members of the Punjab Assembly claimed dengue had affected the province because of "God's annoyance" and called on people to seek forgiveness as a "remedy".

The Punjab Assembly's speaker has even adjourned proceedings for an indefinite period so that the government could control the spread of the virus, at the request of some 'frightened' elected representatives.

Incidentally, a majority of the legislators have left Lahore for their respective hometown because of the fear of dengue.

During yesterday's session in the assembly, the legislators advocated prayers to stave off what they called the "dance of death in the province and in Lahore".

Even legislators like Asad Ashraf of the PML-N and Akhtar Malik of the Pakistan People's Party, who are professional doctors, professed faith in prayers to counter dengue.

"It is time for dua (prayers)," Akhtar told the assembly.

"Nations suffer such deadly epidemics because of their sins, which can be taken care of only by seeking God's forgiveness," he claimed.

In a related development, professors Huzaima Bukhari and Ikramul Haq of the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences argued in an article published in Business Recorder daily yesterday that dengue was introduced in Pakistan by the CIA in the 1980s as part of a germ warfare campaign directed against Soviet troops, who were then occupying Afghanistan.

The article, which was widely derided by Pakistani users of Facebook and Twitter, alleged dengue was spread through a "Malaria Eradication Centre" set up in Lahore by the US in the 1980s.

In the Punjab Assembly, some legislators used the debate on dengue to attack various institutions despite a promise made a day earlier by the lawmakers to treat the outbreak as a national crisis and to fight it together.

Shaukat Basra of the PPP touched a raw nerve in the treasury benches when he asked the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to take "suo moto notice of dengue killings in Lahore".

He added: "If the Karachi killings can merit his attention, why can't the Lahore killings? The Chief Justice must take notice of provincial mismanagement, fix responsibility and take the guilty to task".

Basra further said PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif should lead the campaign against dengue.

Responding to him, Rana Arshad of the PML-N said: "If the PPP wants Nawaz Sharif to lead the campaign against dengue, why it does not ask President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani to do it instead? They should visit Punjab as the province is part of Pakistan".

Arshad too used the occasion to remind everyone that "one dies because of God's will, and prayers are the only remedy".

Completely ignoring the 37 deaths caused by dengue so far in Punjab, Asad Ashraf of the PML-N maintained that "dengue was not a fatal virus".

Patients could be healed if they take rest and keep their temperature under control, he contended.