With over 10,982 confirmed cases and 230 deaths, Pakistan’s Covid19 response has been marked by indecision, lack of clarity, and disregard of human lives by the government and the country’s mullahs.
With Ramzan starting this Friday, Pakistan is the only Muslim majority country that has not asked people to pray from home. Instead the government has put forth a series of measures or Standing operating procedures for mosques to follow while they stay open! According to PM Imran Khan, “it was now the responsibility of ulema to ensure the people follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for collective prayers.” Not only doctors and healthcare professionals but activists and others have appealed against this government decision.
According to veteran human rights activist and columnist, I.A. Rahman “what happens in the country in the immediate future will depend on how well or otherwise the challenges peculiar to the month of Ramazan are faced by the government and the people. The former will be tested for its ability to persevere with measures necessary to fight the coronavirus epidemic, and the latter will be required to prove their strength in preferring reason to emotion and narrow interest. And both need the will and capacity to deal effectively with the powerful pressure groups the month of fasting will throw up.”
Rahman, noted that the government decision, which was contrary to those of fellow Muslim countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, was based on pushback from interest groups like the mullahs and shopkeepers and vendors. “Why did the religious leaders strike a pre-emptive blow at the government? It is possible some scholars genuinely believe that they have a right to hold congregations in mosques regardless of the pandemic threat. Their indifference to requisites of their own safety is understandable though their lack of concern for the safety of the fellow namazi is not.” Also, “The second pressure group that could undermine the fight against Covid-19 comprises the huge number of beneficiaries of what may be described as the Ramazan economy. For a very large number of shopkeepers and vendors, Ramazan is the month of unbridled profiteering. They charge exorbitant prices for fruits, vegetables and other requirements for iftar. Even where raising prices is not possible, and no special bazaars are allowed this year, the demand for syrups, sugar, milk, bread and many other foodstuffs goes up in the month of fasting.”
Finally, as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted there is “an absence of clarity in the federal government’s measures – a clarity without which it cannot hope to curb the pandemic and create space for the country’s already fragile healthcare system. The government in Islamabad has sown confusion among the population by relaying mixed messages about the lockdown and inciting its supporters in Sindh to undermine the actions taken by the provincial government. Instead of learning from the experience of more developed countries that have suffered hugely at the hands of this pandemic, the federal government remains indecisive. Worryingly, despite clear warnings from the Pakistan Medical Association, it has allowed congregations in Ramazan under pressure from certain clerics, even though this contravenes lockdown decisions in other Muslim countries. When a large part of the population across Pakistan is at risk, it is deeply disappointing to see the federal government indulge in scoring political points against a provincial government, while capitulating to the big business and religious lobbies.”