Friday, April 24, 2020
Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Thursday said that Prime Minister Imran Khan's logic and reasoning to change the restrictions which were already in place is beyond comprehension.
The Imran Khan government has decided to introduce a track and trace system in the country, under which random testing of people will start in a few days.
Zia Ur-RehmanNod to mosques to remain open raises questions as to who is in charge during the national crisis: the govt. or the clerics While clerics and governments across the Muslim world will greet Ramadan this week under lockdown, working together to shut mosques and urging worshippers to pray at home, in Pakistan, some of the most prominent imams have rallied their devotees to ignore the anti-pandemic measures.
Ramadan, which begins in Pakistan later this week, is the holy month in which Muslims crowd into mosques and fast all day, holding feasts after sundown with family and friends. Those are ripe conditions for the coronavirus to spread, and imams around the world are asking people to stay home.But in Pakistan, pandemic or no pandemic, hard-line clerics are calling the shots, overriding the government’s nationwide virus lockdown, which began late last month. Most clerics complied with the shutdown when it was announced. But some of the most influential ones called on worshippers to attend Friday prayers in even greater numbers. Devotees attacked police officers who tried to get in their way.As Ramadan drew closer, dozens of well-known clerics and leaders of religious parties — including some who had initially obeyed the lockdown orders — signed a letter demanding that the government exempt mosques from the shutdown during the holy month or invite the anger of God and the faithful. 20 rules to be followed On Saturday, the government gave in, signing an agreement that let mosques stay open for Ramadan as long as they followed 20 rules, including forcing congregants to maintain a 6-foot distance, bring their own prayer mats and do their ablutions at home. By the time Prime Minister Imran Khan met with the clerics on Monday, deferentially promising to abide by the deal, critics were demanding to know who was in charge during this national crisis: the government or the mosques.“The state has become totally subservient to these clerics,” said Husnul Amin, an Islamabad-based professor and scholar on Islam and politics. “It is very difficult for the state to implement what’s best for the public good. The larger public interest is always up against the clerics. It’s completely undemocratic.”Pakistan’s imams were empowered by the military during the 1980s when mosques across the country churned out jihadists to fight the Soviet military in Afghanistan with the support of the U.S. While other countries tried to curb hard-line clerics’ influence after the Afghan war, in Pakistan, the powerful military continued to use them as tools of foreign and domestic policy. But their defiance of the lockdown is exposing the limits of the military’s control. Beyond Army’s control The military wanted the shutdown, pressuring Mr. Khan to back the measure at a time when he was reluctant and worried about the economic toll. But when the security forces tried to prevent worshippers from gathering at mosques for prayers, they found themselves under attack. In Karachi, the largest city, scenes emerged of worshippers chasing the police through narrow alleyways, pelting them with rocks and sending several officers to the hospital. “The military has created a monster they can no longer control,” Mr. Amin said. “They are the creation of the military, and only they could handle them. That may no longer be the case.” By the time Ramadan approached, police officers were no longer willing to erect cordons around mosques to stop congregants. While clerics acknowledge that their mosques are perfect vectors for the coronavirus’s spread — worshippers gather to perform ablutions together before cramming into the mosques, shoulder to shoulder in supplication — they say they have to protect their bottom line: money and influence. “We know the coronavirus pandemic is a global health issue, but religious duties cannot be abandoned,” said Maulana Ataullah Hazravi, a Karachi-based cleric, adding that, “mosques depend largely on the donations collected during Ramadan.” NY Times
DIAA HADID Last Friday, dozens of worshippers braved pelting rain — and defied the government — to gather for communal prayers at Hanifiya mosque in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. They ignored official orders to limit Friday congregations to just five people — part of a broader ban on public gatherings to curb the spread of coronavirus. Many of the Friday congregants were elderly, like 72-year-old retiree Awal Khan, precisely the category of people who have been hit hard by the pandemic. "It is all in the hands of Allah," said Khan, who clucked disapprovingly when asked whether he was worried about the virus. He added he was standing "2 or 3 feet" away from fellow worshippers, but still, he said, "we should fear God" – not a pandemic. With the holy Muslim month of Ramadan drawing near — it is expected to begin April 24 — Khan said he looked forward to spending even more time in the mosque for evening prayers, as Muslims traditionally do during the month. But this week, he won't be breaking the law.That's because authorities across Pakistan have now rescinded the order to limit mosque gatherings. The government now says its own rules about public gatherings will not apply for Ramadan.Pakistan has more than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 220 people have died, as of Thursday.The order to curb congregations was only ever spottily enforced, and it pointed to a particular issue in Pakistan: limiting group gatherings for worship is not easy in this deeply religious country. Even as worshippers trudged into the Hanifiya mosque unhindered last week, a cleric in a hard-line mosque in Islamabad taunted authorities by urging his followers to cram together tightly for prayers over three successive Fridays. Sometimes, the resistance has been violent. On April 10, worshippers in the port city of Karachi assaulted a policewoman trying to block them from entering a mosque. A video of the event shows the officer shouting, "They attacked me! They tried to murder me! They broke my glasses!" Even when authorities tried to limit congregations, like at the ornate Haidari mosque in Islamabad, dozens of worshippers simply crammed shoulder to shoulder on a nearby sidewalk and prayed there instead. Part of the defiance stems from the fact that clerics see mosques as power bases for projecting their influence, said Madiha Afzal, Rubenstein fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State. "The clerics see people not going into the mosques physically as a manifestation of weakened power," she said. Their defiance of government orders was saying, 'Look, our domain of control is the mosque and you cannot take this domain of control away from us.' " The pressure on authorities only snowballed since the order was announced. Worshippers angrily denounced the limits on congregations as the government restarted the construction industry and allowed some businesses to reopen last week, including stationery shops. "People crowd vegetable markets. Government offices," complained one worshipper, 28-year-old civil servant Mohammad Zubair. "So — there's only corona in mosques?" And clerics chafed against the order as the holy Muslim month of Ramadan drew near. "Muslims must be in the mosques in Ramadan and pray in congregation during this time of trial," insisted Mufti Taqi Usmani, one of Pakistan's most prominent clerics, who spoke at a press conference flanked by other famous scholars. Perhaps there, he said, "worshippers may pray to God to end the outbreak that was sent by Him." Days later, the government announced that mosques will be open for worship after consultations with senior clerics, including those who had flanked Usmani at the press conference. "If worshippers want to go [to mosques] and we stop them by deploying police and putting people in jail – this is not what free nations do," said Prime Minister Imran Khan, explaining the about-face in an Urdu-language post uploaded to his political party's Twitter feed. The agreement to open mosques for worship came with rules to try prevent contagion, including an order that worshippers wear masks and keep a 6-foot distance from one another during prayers. But some doctors have asked: If the government couldn't enforce a limit on congregations, how will it enforce this new tangle of rules? "In Pakistan, the laws and regulations are not strictly implemented properly," said Dr. Qaisar Sajjad, head of the Pakistan Medical Association. Sajjad was one of a handful of prominent doctors who wrote a letter pleading with the government and clerics to keep worshippers home. "It will be a problem if mosques were open for prayers," he told NPR on Wednesday. "In Ramadan, the number of cases of coronavirus will increase dramatically, and it will cause a lot of problems for the doctors as well as the paramedics," he said. "We have a shortage of ventilators, a shortage of trained doctors." He noted in an earlier press conference that authorities said that if cases increased, they would review the decision to keep the mosques open. "Mr. Prime Minister, by then, it will be too late," he said.
Talking to media persons in Islamabad, Bilawal said that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s logic and reasoning to change the restrictions that were already in place were beyond comprehension. He said that for the first few weeks the lockdown went relatively well and the people were abiding by the restrictions. Only five members of mosque staff were allowed to offer prayers and people were urged to pray at home.
The PM eased some restrictions, including allowing barbers and tailors to reopen their shops in the country, so it was difficult to convince the clerics to follow the same restrictions about prayers. Before the PM’s easing of restrictions, the clerics were cooperating, he said, adding that there was no need to ease those restrictions. “However, now the PM is justifying his decision, risking the lives of the people.”
The PPP chairman said that Sindh was the first province to impose the lockdown and the Sindh government had engaged the religious community because “we do not have the capacity or police to stop congregational prayers in the mosques”, because mixed messages were coming from the federal government. “We are still trying to engage the religious community, but it is now difficult when the PM is making an issue about freedom,” he added.
“I think this is a colossal failure of leadership,” he said. “When we compare ourselves to the rest of the Muslim world, like Saudi Arabia, Iran and others, they are taking steps to save the lives of their citizens. This is not the time for populous electoral decisions. It is time to take decisions on the advice of doctors and health experts. Doctors of Pakistan from Lahore to Karachi are protesting or holding press conferences, appealing to take those necessary steps to protect them and ease the burden on our healthcare system,” he maintained.
He said the federal government had the responsibility of running the economy, and now it had also the responsibility of protecting the lives and health of the people and securing their livelihood. It was ironic that the first relief package by the federal government was for the construction sector instead of doctors and nurses who risk their lives every single day, he said.
Bilawal said that Pakistan would regret not spending a higher ratio of GDP on health. Whenever the PPP came to power, it drastically increased the spending on healthcare, he recalled.
Bilawal said that he was not only worried for Pakistan but also for other developing countries at the time of the global pandemic.
“We as a global community were not prepared to deal with such a pandemic, and unfortunately, Pakistan did not forge national unity required to fight this pandemic.”