Pakistan needs national unity, not Khan’s divisiveness, amidst Coronavirus Crisis

At a time when the country is facing Covid-19 pandemic, the urgent need of the hour in every country is national unity. However, in Pakistan, the government doesn’t appear to understand the need for national level decision making.

In a recent piece titled ‘National unity, a must, Sir?’ veteran human rights advocate and columnist, I.A. Rahman, criticized the “PTI leadership’s allergy to the idea of consulting the PML-N and PPP leaders,” stating “they are no worse, if not better, than many of their former colleagues who constitute the core of the PTI parliamentary party.”

If the “coronavirus crisis is a warlike situation” Rahman argues, then “Inter-party consultation is needed to develop a national consensus.”
According to Rahman, “This is not a plea for including opposition representatives in the federal coalition at this stage. The government is quite stable and the prime minister has given proof of defying party pulls by releasing the FIA report on the sugar crisis, and taking action against a few ministers/advisers and his controller of the bureaucracy. The purpose of advocating unity of political forces at the national level is to ensure that policy decisions at the top level are based on the broadest possible consensus among the country’s political groups. Functional national unity is needed for a variety of reasons — for interprovincial coordination, for example. The prime minister’s view that the centre cannot impose its will on the federating units after the adoption of the 18th Amendment is commendable, but this does not obviate the need for interprovincial consultation. The government can easily afford the convening of the Council of Common Interests that Sindh has been demanding.”

Further, “A national consensus is also necessary for filling the gaps in
the campaign against the pandemic. Official spokespersons are talking about what they have done and not admitting what remains to be done. The capacity for testing people for infection is pitiably low, as Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, who is not known for exaggeration, has been emphasising. The doctors in Quetta are being supplied with safety gear after being mercilessly baton-charged and thrown into prison for asking for it. National unity/consensus is needed to organise relief for the multitudes who are without resources, and this can best be done by reviving the local bodies, a proposal that cannot be ignored only because it has been mooted by Qamar Zaman Kaira and HRCP. National unity is also needed to end the tribulations of the media and must begin by ending the unlawful interference in the distribution of and denial of advertisements to leading newspapers, as unlawful means are adopted when the target of discriminatory punishment has not committed any legally cognisable offence. Above all, national unity is required to persuade the people to accept the religious authorities’ advice regarding the offering of prayers and maintaining social distance. What is being suggested is the formation of all-parties committees at every level to streamline the fight against the pandemic. Such a move will also strengthen democracy.”

Human rights watchdog to Govt: Hurry up Relief Efforts

With 2419 confirmed cases of Covid19 and 34 deaths, Pakistan has the highest number of cases in the South Asian region. The federal government of PM Imran Khan, however, believes that he doesn’t really need to panic, and things will work themselves out!

Pakistan’s leading human rights organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) alerted “authorities to the growing frustration among vulnerable families over unnecessary delays in providing them with food rations and other necessities. HRCP believes that the lack of clarity at the level of the federal government – where the Prime Minister apparently takes a different view of the pandemic from other government functionaries – is exacerbating the situation. This delay is likely to create law and order problems sooner than later and could lead to food riots. Instead of wasting further time in creating new entities, existing human resources should be mobilised immediately to distribute rations. These include the courageous polio vaccinators, lady health workers, and trained volunteers of the Civil Defence and Red Crescent, who already have proven access to people at the household level across Pakistan. Local civil society organisations can also be used for this purpose under a coordinated plan. HRCP also demands the restoration of the suspended local governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Without functioning local governments, any relief effort will remain an uphill task.”

Naya Pakistan waffles on Covid lockdown- Updated

The Covid19 Pandemic has hit every country, including Pakistan. As of March 27, 2020, there were almost 1363 confirmed cases in Pakistan with almost 440 cases in Sindh, 490 in Punjab, 180 in KPK, 133 in Balochistan, 93 in AJK/GB and 27 in Islamabad. There have also been 11 deaths to date.

For weeks the government led by PM Imran Khan did not take the pandemic seriously. On Sunday March 22, Prime Minister Khan seemed unsure he wanted to go for a lockdown. In a televised address he said “Twenty-five percent of Pakistanis are below the poverty line … today if I impose a complete lockdown then … my country’s rickshaw drivers, pushcart vendors, taxi drivers, small shopkeepers, daily wage earners, all of them will be shut in their homes. If Pakistan had the resources that Italy has, that France has, that the US has, that England has, I would fully lock down all of Pakistan today.”

Yet, 24 hours later on Monday March 23, 2020 the country moved to a nation-wide lockdown till. March 31.st According to news reports “On Monday, a full lockdown went into effect in the southern city of Karachi, home to more than 20 million people, while Punjab province – home to almost half of Pakistan’s 207 million people – also announced widespread restrictions on public movement. The government in both areas has restricted people to their homes, other than to access essential services such as groceries, pharmacies or medical care, according to a government announcement.”

Further, Educational institutions have been closed till May 31, motorways are closed for transport and all of PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) domestic and special flights have been suspended.

After a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) over COVID-19, during a press conference on March 27, 2020, the Prime Minister, however, announced that the government would “ensure uninterrupted supply of essential goods.“This is a difficult balance. At one hand, we have coronavirus which can spread, and on the other, we have to ensure that our people do not die of hunger,” he remarked, adding the movement of goods’ transport and the running of food industry would help check the problem. The prime minister also announced the launching of a special youth force namely the “Corona Relief Tigers” to tackle the situation arising out of COVID-19 and said the registration for joining the force would start from March 31.”

Attacks on Aurat March, Attacks on Pakistani citizens

Pakistan’s constitution provides equal rights to half its population – women – but in reality ever since the 1950s, Islamist ideologues and organizations have been allowed to dictate state policy. This fear of women seeking their rights was visible on Sunday on the occasion of International Women’s Day, when Islamist groups and their supporters physically attacked the Aurat March.

Two days before the Aurat March, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had expressed support for the March, and condemned “any attempts to subvert, malign or threaten the march, its organisers, and supporters. HRCP sees Aurat March as an integral part of the collective struggle for human rights in Pakistan and beyond. The depth and breadth of the movement’s manifesto is a measure of its inclusivity. Among its legitimate demands, Aurat March has called for an end to violence against vulnerable groups, including women, children, and transgender persons. It has spoken out against enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and warmongering. It has upheld the right to a living wage, the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to a sustainable environment. These rights are enshrined in the country’s constitution and its international human rights obligations. Above all, they are integral to any sense of humanity, empathy and compassion. The ethos of Aurat March reflects the very values that HRCP has consistently upheld: inclusivity, peace, democracy, and the inviolable dignity of all persons regardless of gender, class, ethnicity, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation or identity. Thousands of young women, transgender persons, and men will mobilise on International Women’s Day to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and challenge the inherently discriminatory status quo. This is a matter of pride – not cause for censure – and warrants the full support of the state and citizens alike.”

Yet, on Sunday March 8, the march was attacked by a group of counter-protesters in Islamabad who hurled stones, bricks and sticks at the marchers. “It was a coordinated attack from the patriarchal and right-wing forces on the women’s movement,” said Ismat Shahjahan, one of the organisers of the event. “We demand an independent judicial inquiry,” she added. The police had registered a case against some 35 people late on Sunday, including organisers of the anti-feminist rally for “provoking the religious sentiments” of their followers against the Women’s Day marchers. The march’s organisers, however, have argued that the police downplayed the severity of the attack and should have included more serious charges against suspected assailants.”