Daily Briefs

Photo : Dawn

17 May 2020, Sunday, Vol 1, No 17

Pakistan This Week

Pakistan eases the lockdown, holds National Assembly meeting, bans three organizations, and decides to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam

PR Daily Brief | PR Team

Pakistan eases the lockdown, holds National Assembly meeting, bans three organizations, and decides to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam
D. Suba Chandran

Four significant developments took place within Pakistan during this week, with the most important being the decision to ease the lockdown.

Pakistan eases the lockdown
The most significant development of the week, which many within Pakistan criticize as a gamble, is Imran Khan's decision to ease the lockdown. Though Imran Khan has linked his decision to the sufferings of the poor and the working class, the real reasons seem to be the pressure from the economic community. Though he publicly stated that the decision to lockdown was "elitist", the reason to open came from the business community, and also the need for Pakistan to ensure its economic. Exports have come down with serious implications for the economy; the State Bank of Pakistan has published a report during the week on the subject.

The government decided to ease the lockdown, with a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Unfortunately, neither the vendors nor the shoppers could follow the SOPs. News reports and images (of people shopping without social distancing and the traffic) from Pakistan highlight the dangers in lifting the lockdown. The provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab have threatened to reimpose the lockdown, if the SOPs are not adhered to.

Despite the inability to impose the lockdown, the federal government has further advised the provincial governments to restart the public transport. While Punjab and KP have readily agreed, Sindh has differed the decision.

The federal government has also started the domestic flight operations. On Saturday, the first flights took off between Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.

The National Assembly meets, with Imran Khan skipping it
On 11 May, the National Assembly met after two months. Instead of working together towards fighting the COVID-19, the meeting highlighted the faultlines along the political and provincial lines. The difference between the federal government and Sindh was obvious and between the PTI and the opposition parties.

The foreign minister blamed the PPP for being provincial, for which Bilawal Bhutto wanted Qureshi to either tender an apology or resign. Sherry Rehman, a senior PPP Senator, questioned the absence of Imran Khan and asked what important task that the Prime Minister has, and also asked who is running the country.

Instead of discussing a national strategy to fight the COVID-19, there was a partisan discussion on the 18th amendment. The opposition blamed the government for attempting to scrap it using the COVID as an excuse. The government has to make a promise that the government would not scrap the same.

The government bans three more organizations
On 12 May, newspapers in Pakistan reported the government adding three organizations from Sindh - Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Aresar Group (JSQM-A), Sindhu Desh Revolution Army (SRA) and Sindhu Desh Liberation Army (SLA) adding to the list of proscribed organizations.

Since 2001, Pakistan has been holding a list and adding to the same. The sectarian organizations such as the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Mohammad Pakistan tops this list, besides the militant groups from Balochistan, and those fighting in J&K such as the LeT and JeM.

However, the problem is practice. Though these organizations are banned legally, most of them remain active and operate in public. The reason was simple. Some political parties find them useful and politically expedient. So does the Deep State, for external reasons in Afghanistan and India. The bigger problem is the investigation and judicial trial. Even the judiciary has asked the government to reform the criminal procedure system within Pakistan.

Finally, the real problem is the cosmetic nature of the government's attempts and is aimed at addressing the FATF concerns. Most of the actions that Pakistan has undertaken since 2001 are related to external pressure. The 9/11, Mumbai attacks and the FATF, were some of the primary reasons for the cosmetic nature of the response. In recent years, the threat of FATF's Grey List was the primary reason for Pakistan's strategy.

The government decides to build Diamer Bhasha dam
One of the biggest decisions during the week was also to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam. The decision has been one of the most debated within Pakistan. Besides the question of capability and funds, there was a serious political question and also royalty, as the dam involves Gilgit Baltistan.

On 13 May, the government signed a joint-venture with the Chinese state-run China Power and Frontier Works Organization worth Rs442 billion. According to available news reports, the construction includes the following: construction of the main dam, an access bridge, diversion system, and the 21MW Tangir hydropower project.

According to the Nation, the Diamer Basha Dam project, "with a total financial outlay of about Rs1406.5 billion will be completed in 2028. The total financial outlay includes land acquisition and resettlement, confidence building measures for social uplift of the locals, construction of dam and power houses. The Project has a gross storage capacity of 8.1million acre feet (MAF) and power generation capacity of 4500 megawatt (MW), with annual generation of 18.1 billion units per annum."


In Brief

COVID-19 cases cross 40,000 in Pakistan
According to the latest figures, Pakistan has crossed 40,000 plus cases with more 860 deaths. Sindh and Punjab have a maximum number of cases with 15,000 plus and 14,000 plus respectively. KP has more than 5400 cases, and Balochistan has around 2500. The capital territory (Islamabad) has close to 950 cases.

Sindh accuses the Centre of not providing even a single ventilator
"Not a single ventilator has been provided so far, nor a laboratory has been set up for testing Covid-19 patients" has been the official response to the claim by the Centre that it has provided Sindh a lot of medical equipment through the National Disaster Management Authority to the province.

Sindh and the Centre have been locked down in a series of accusations and counter-accusations on fighting COVID-19. Both the PPP and PTI have substantial differences on how to fight the virus.
("Sindh refutes Centre's claim of providing medical equipment," Dawn)

Pakistan starts domestic flights
As a part of the government's decision to ease the lockdown, the first domestic flight operations since the closure, following the COVID outbreak. The business community, in particular, has been demanding the opening of domestic air operations. The first flight – from Karachi took off to Lahore and Islamabad.
Earlier, the government has announced resuming the public transport system. While KP and Punjab have agreed to the same, Sindh has dithered it.
("Limited domestic flights operation resumes," Dawn)

China sends 20 tonnes of medical equipment to Pakistan's NDMA
The National Disaster Management Authority of Pakistan received 20 tonnes of medical equipment; according to a news report, the consignment included the following: 99 ventilators, 260,000 N-95 masks, 300 protective suits, 600 safety goggles, over 7,000 KN-95 masks, and 6,000 surgical masks. ("20 tonnes of medical equipment arrive from China: NDMA," The News)

"In Pakistan, the problems have been compounded by a dysfunctional state structure," says an analysis
In the Nation, an analysis says that in Pakistan, "the problems have been compounded by a dysfunctional state structure, and decades of misplaced priorities. Over the past thirty years, Pakistan has seen a consistent decline in its public healthcare system, which has been made worse by debilitating brain-drain of qualified healthcare professionals. In the circumstances, vested commercial interests have resulted in the creation of an 'elitist' private healthcare industry, with mostly substandard facilities, which caters to a small fraction of our population who can afford to foot the exorbitant bills."
Saad Rasool, "A dysfunctional social contract?," The Nation)

Government releases information in media, about Shahbaz Sharif's corruption trail
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar along with Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz, at a news conference have elaborately accused the PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif of corruption.

In a lengthy media conference, both attempted to provide a detailed trail of corruption on how Shahbaz used his party members and fake companies to transfer funds to Shahbaz Sharif's personal account.
("Trail of Shahbaz Sharif' kickbacks found," The News)

Pakistan claims to arrest a local cop, who is a member of RAW sleeper cell
The News reported about the arrest of an Assistant Sub-inspector (ASI) by the Federal Investigation Agency, who was posted to the Special Branch as a key member of a RAW sleeper cell and running a large terrorist and surveillance network. The News quoted officials stating "the suspect who had joined the Sindh police force in 1991 was provided funds on the directives of the MQM leader Mehmood Siddiqui, former APMSO. Ali had also visited to India for training in 2008. Associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London, he is accused of being involved in target killings and terrorism."
("Cop running RAW, MQM-London terrorist network held," The News)

"A slight surge in terrorist attacks in the last two months" in Pakistan: Analysis
Muhammad Amir Rana in his analysis in Dawn writes that there has been a surge in acts of terrorism within Pakistan. He writes, "though it cannot be linked to the pandemic as there is no major shift from the pre-virus trends."

According to the analysis, "the merged tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and some parts of Balochistan have been hotspots of insecurity and violence for several months now. There have been concerns about the growing presence and activities of militants in parts of the tribal districts, mainly North and South Waziristan. Most security incidents, including militant attacks, in recent weeks have been reported from areas closer to the Pak-Afghan border, such as Datta Khel. Militants may also be expanding their areas of presence and operation." ("Terrorism under Covid-19," Dawn)

Pakistan announces opening Chaman and Torkham borders with Afghanistan for six days in a week
Pakistan has decided to open Afghanistan-Pakistan border at two major points – Chaman in Balochistan and Torkham in KP for six days. The border points were closed during the end of March, following the COVID outbreak; now, it would be opened for six days during the week.
("Torkham, Chaman borders opened for six days a week," The News)

Dawn in its editorial questions the wisdom of Pakistan's Minorities commission to discuss Indian Muslims
Pakistan government recently has announced the formation of a National Minorities Commission. Many within Pakistan have questioned the decision to Ahmediays outside the purview of this Commission; other activists have questioned the decision to form the Commission not at a Parliamentary body.

Meanwhile, the Commission met for the first time this week and discussed the status of Muslims in India. Dawn, in its editorial, asked the following: "While one cannot deny the suffering of Muslims in India, and there is no harm in showing solidarity with beleaguered people living in any part of the world, would it not make more sense for the Commission to focus on problems faced by minorities at home, and leave the prime minister, foreign minister and the Foreign Office to dilate on problems abroad? Unfortunately, it seems as if Pakistan's minorities are expected to constantly have to prove their loyalty to the state and its dominant narrative, rather than being accepted as truly equal citizens, in a way that is neither patronizing nor demeaning."
(Editorial, "Minority meeting," Dawn)

New Presidential Order to hold the elections in Gilgit Baltistan
The PTI government has issued a new order – "Gilgit-Baltistan Election and Caretaker Amendment Order, 2020" that would allow the formation of a new caretaker government in Gilgit Baltistan, with an objective to hold elections. The existing GB Assembly will complete its five years tenure in June 2020.

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