Pakistan: Don’t Politicize the Anti-Coronavirus Campaign

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 By Sajjad Shaukat for Veterans Today

Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has almost enveloped the entire world. Up to April 13, 2020, globally, it killed more than 113,849 persons and infected 1.8 million people.

As regards Pakistan, up to the same date, the number of coronavirus-deaths has reached the figure of 95, whereas the number of persons, affected by the virus is 5,478.

Unlike Asia and Africa, this novel virus has badly affected the Western countries including, Italy, France, Germany, UK, Spain, USA etc. where tens thousands of people have been died and new cases are emerging daily. Most of these countries have created national unity to eradicate this deadly virus.

But, it is misfortune of Pakistan that at this critical hour, instead of cooperating with the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan-the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), some political entities and media analysts are criticising his policies. Thus, they have politicised the anti-coronavirus campaign.

While, taking it as a war to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the government has already taking appropriate measures.

In this regard, Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 27, this year announced the launch of a youth force labeled as Corona Relief Youth Tiger Force, which will lead the fight against the coronavirus in Pakistan. It will not be politically-Party-based volunteers, as the premier said. Recruitment for corona relief tigers started on March 31, 2020.

The Corona Relief Youth Tiger Force will be volunteer force which will comprise mainly of youth and razakars. Its purpose is to create awareness campaign among poor people about the ongoing crisis. Volunteer force would also act as an example for other employees/workforce regarding performing daily duties/work during crisis situations and at the same time practicing all medical precautions as well. Premier also requested the people to donate money to COVID-19 relief fund.

In this respect, in a tweet message on April 1, this year PM urged “people to donate so government can take care of those in need. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Coronavirus Relief Fund is accepting donations to help those “who have been made destitute by the lockdown”, imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He also called upon the youth “to come forward and join the government’s volunteer force to provide food items and other essentials to those who are struggling owing to the steps taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus…Those who wish to volunteer can register through the Prime Minister’s Citizen Portal application”. He added that “the US had allocated $2,000 billion to offset the impact of Covid-19, while Pakistan had earmarked only $8bn.”

Besides, PM Imran also participated in a special programme of a renowned TV channel on April 10, 2020 for collection of donations for coronavirus lockdown victims. In response, Pakistanis – both at home and abroad donated funds of more than Rs. 200 million. Still, Pakistanis are sending money in this regard.

Earlier, addressing the nation, PM Imran Khan said: “We as a nation need to win this war against coronavirus” and asked the people “to adopt precautionary measures to overcome the highly contagious disease…everyone must avoid gatherings of more than 40 people. Handshaking must also be avoided…those arriving from abroad to go in a 14-day self-quarantine…The virus is dangerous for old people since it attacked their already-weakened immune system…Our economic situation is very fragile…If we close down the country, what will happen to the poor? People will die of hunger…the country’s Ulema said that it was their responsibility to play a positive role in the crisis.”

In this connection, federal and provincial governments, including their health departments have already issued precautionary instructions to save the lives of people. As most of the Pakistanis were not taking preventive measures to protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic, the central and provincial governments were compelled to impose restrictions of various kinds-complete or partial lockdown to stop further spread of this fatal disease.

It is mentionable that the National Command Centre (NCC) and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), consisting of military and civil personnel have been established to monitor the situation and take necessary decisions on a daily basis in relation to the COVID-19. The NDMA is leading the operations and coordinating with the provincial and district authorities for the necessary implementation of the preventive and curative actions.

Notably, DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj-Gen. Babar Iftikhar pointed out in a tweet on April 7, this year: “Pakistan Army is dispatching emergency supplies of medical equipment including Personal Protective Equipment to Quetta on orders of the Army Chief to help the medical staff effectively fight COVID-19…Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said—Doctors and paramedics are the frontline soldiers in this war against coronavirus. Most advanced nations and governments are finding it extremely difficult to fight this pandemic. Pakistan government is striving hard to acquire and supply the required resources”.

In this respect, addressing a press conference on March 23, 2020, Maj-Gen Babar Iftikhar stated: “Coronavirus is a danger…but the Pakistan Army is fully aware of its duty and would counter the pandemic with the nation’s help”.

Regrettably, most of the citizens are violating the restrictions. Hence, the number of coronavirus cases is increasing day by day in the country.

And the government has also arranged an economic package for daily wagers and the poor in order to help them in these dire situations.

However, the world is recognising Prime Minister Imran’s timely steps for the protection and security of the people, as the same is also evident from the statement issued by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) representative in Pakistan, Dr Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala.

On the other side, opposition parties and some entities are criticizing the prime minister’s campaign against the threat of COVID-19.

In the Twitter on March 31, 2020, Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman has termed the Prime Minister’s ‘Tiger force’ a bad idea and said that the federation and provinces must use union councils. She also criticised the government for donations from Pakistanis to combat coronavirus outbreak.

Addressing the parliamentary party leaders’ video conference on March 26, this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan once again opposed complete lockdown in the country, as it would result into hunger especially for the poor, affecting daily wagers and workers. He called for national response to fight the pandemic of COVID-19, saying the federal government could not meet the challenge alone. He called upon the opposition parties to give their suggestions to meet the challenge. However, the conference was marred by walkout of the Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who were insisting upon the complete lockdown in the country in the recent past, while earlier premier has stated that if necessity arose, he would impose complete lockdown.

It is worth-mentioning that government of Sindh has imposed complete lockdown in some cities. But, federal government did not interfere. Despite it, Sindh’s Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and top officials of his government are criticizing the anti-coronavirus campaign of the federal government.

It is noteworthy that the Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif whose party has not donated money in connection with the coranavirus epidemic is only disapproving PM’s positive steps. Similarly, sometimes, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari offered his cooperation to the central government, suggesting to create a national consensus and sometimes, opposed the strategy of the government led by PTI leader. Question arises, if they have political differences with Imran Khan, as to why, they and their parties do not create some charitable organization, also asking the members of their parties to send donations to cope with this deadly virus. Even, they, themselves, can donate money directly to the poor persons who have been affected by the virus.

Meanwhile, the criticism of the rulers’ anti-coronavirus move was exploited by populist religious clerics, whose refusal to cancel congregational prayers of Friday and other religious gatherings, setting the country on the path to a massive outbreak.

Showing responsible approach, All Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) on March 17, this year issued joint fatwa to postpone all religious gatherings decided to limit Friday sermons at mosques across the country, while distance should be maintained at the time of prayers. The Fatwa has also outlined some general guidelines for the people to follow—avoid shaking hands, the sick and elderly should pray at home and cleanliness in ablution areas of mosques should be ensured. Various Ulma have also advised the people to perform prayers at home.

Religious authorities across the Middle East have moved to cancel or limit weekly prayer gatherings to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. In some Islamic countries like Kuwait, religious authorities asked Muslims to pray at home as the Gulf states stepped up measures to fight the spread the novel virus.

Surprisingly, some media anchors and analysts are also targeting the positive steps, taken by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Moreover, despite its limited resources, Islamabad has taken timely action to thwart the coronavirus, while the West’s developed countries which have the most developed equipments and medical treatments have, badly, failed.

Nonetheless, leaders of the PML-N and PPP are doing politics over sensitive issue of coronavirus. At this crucial time, instead of showing unity and harmony, they are engaged in political point-scoring.

Maintaining unity and harmony is the need of the hour, as the coronavirus outbreak is a national issue and together we have to defeat this virus.

So, these hostile elements should not politicise the ant-coronavirus campaign of the government. They are suggested to show national unity to further prevent outbreak of this fatal disease.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: [email protected]

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