Pakistan Reader# 108, 17 May 2020
Four significant developments took place within Pakistan during this week (11-17 May 2020), 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."