Sunday, May 3, 2020
Pakistan is going through a very tough period under the Coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic is spreading at an alarming speed due to the federal government’s incapability. Talking about changes in the 18th amendment at such a critical time is both hilarious and worrying. Instead of going for a complete lockdown, forming a coherent policy on dealing with the coronavirus, and coordinating with the provinces, the federal government is thinking about taking their autonomy away. Some people think that the government has created an issue out of the 18th amendment at this time only to divert the attention from the forensic report of the sugar and wheat crises that was due to be released on April 25. One thing is clear. The attempt on the 18th amendment is more likely to cause the downfall of the Imran Khan government, which is barely surviving with its razor-thin majority.
At a time when the Sindh government is performing far better than the other provinces and the federal government, even the mention of the 18th amendment proves that Imran Khan is panicking under pressure because it is the 18th amendment which allows the Sindh government the freedom in decision-making. When Imran Khan was unable to take a clear line, Bilawal Bhutto came forward and proved himself a national leader. Sindh took the lead and the other provinces followed.But instead of cooperating with the provincial government, federal ministers are busy conspiring against the Sindh government. It seems that each minister has been given the task to do propaganda against the Sindh government daily. PTI leaders in Sindh can be heard in an alleged audio clip viral on social media telling their local supporters to film the women of their families complaining about the corruption in ration-distribution.
Haleem Adil Sheikh has played the worst role in this case. I’d say that if Sheikh is sincere with the people of Sindh, he’d be speaking up against the proposals of changes in the 18th amendment and the NFC Award.
It is also a test for Sindhi nationalist leaders and the GDA. Whoever sides with those trying to change the 18th amendment will be considered an enemy of the people of Sindh. Imran Khan should focus on eliminating Corona rather than doing away with the 18th amendment. The nation will stand behind him. But it is sad to see him still indulging in divisive politics at such a critical moment. He is trying to divide the nation at a time when it needs unity the most. His attempts to change the 18th amendment should be considered as attacks on the federation.
In an interview with DW, Harris Khalique, secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that PM Imran Khan's government is undermining the supremacy of parliament and democratic norms.
DW: Local and international media organizations are critical of Prime Minister Imran Khan's government's handling of the media and the freedom of the press situation in Pakistan. What is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's take on it?
Harris Khalique: Pakistan witnessed censorship and curbing of the freedom of expression during military dictatorships. However, such restrictions have never been experienced under a political government that claims to be democratically elected. Even if there are questions around the manipulation of the 2018 general elections, the current government can still be seen as a product of a continuous electoral process that was restored in 2008.
We believe that the muffling of critical voices and systematic suppression of political dissent under the incumbent government is incomparable with any elected government in the past.
How is the incumbent government muzzling the freedom of the press in Pakistan, and how is it different from the tactics used by previous administrations?
The current dispensation is not only constraining independent journalists, columnists and writers, it has also put a financial squeeze on media houses by various means. That has resulted in a number of publications going out of print and a large number of media professionals losing their jobs.
Interviews of opposition leaders are taken off air in the middle of the broadcasts, anchors on news channels are asked to comply with the official narrative, and op-ed writers are regularly censored. There have been multiple attempts to regulate social media with a view to eliminate any difference of opinion.
Are media owners also responsible for the plight of journalists in Pakistan?
There are two types of media owners in Pakistan. Those who fall in the first category are traditional media houses run by journalist-cum-owners. They have tried to put up with the pressure as much as they could.
The other category is large businesses that entered into media and journalism considering it a lucrative industry, which brings influence and political clout. Those belonging to the second category have been more ruthless when dealing with journalists. However, even those falling into the first category have placed their material interests before ethical journalism. Therefore, professional journalists and those who work in their supporting professions are the worst hit in this situation.
Sajid Hussain Baloch's death in Sweden has raised questions about the safety of Pakistani journalists abroad. Reporters Without Borders claims that Baloch's death is related to his work as a journalist. Do you agree?
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is deeply alarmed by the incident. There is certainly a possibility that Hussain lost his life due to his journalistic work focusing on Balochistan because the Pakistani state has dealt aggressively with those challenging its Balochistan policy. However, since Hussain was found dead in Sweden it is hard to make any conclusive remarks at this juncture until the time Swedish authorities complete their investigation into the matter.
HRCP has raised alarm about the threats to democracy in the country in its 2019 annual report. What are the major threats to democracy in Pakistan and how can its civil society deal with them?
There are a number of events that have taken place, and speeches made by those in power, which proved that Khan's government undermines the supremacy of parliament, ridicules democratic norms and questions provincial autonomy.
Pakistan cannot be at peace with itself without federalism and democracy and will never prosper without encouraging equal citizenship irrespective of class, faith or ethnicity. There is an inherent desire among the ruling elites – civil and military alike – to centralize power and to get rid of the 18th constitutional amendment that has empowered federating units, the provinces.
Both civil and political societies in Pakistan have a responsibility to safeguard the constitution, democracy, federalism, and supremacy of parliament by resisting any actions that will be detrimental to the country's integrity and security.
By Daud Khattak ,Frud Bezhan
Pakistan’s long battle to eradicate the crippling poliovirus has been thwarted by militant attacks, radical Islamic clerics, and anti-vaccination propaganda.
Pakistan’s long battle to eradicate the crippling poliovirus has been thwarted by militant attacks, radical Islamic clerics, and anti-vaccination propaganda.
But the South Asian nation of 220 million people is facing a new hurdle: the coronavirus pandemic.
Pakistani authorities have halted a nationwide door-to-door polio vaccination drive to stop the spread of the coronavirus -- with polio workers and resources being redeployed to tackle the pandemic.
Pakistan has registered more than 19,100 coronavirus cases and 440 deaths as of May 3, according to official numbers.
But the real number of infections is believed to be much higher, as little testing has been completed.
The government originally imposed restrictions on the movement of people and enforced social-distancing measures but have since eased them. Pakistani health officials warn that the suspension of the polio-eradication campaign will prevent tens of millions of children from being vaccinated and fuel a resurgence of the disease. With the disappearance of wild polio cases in Nigeria in recent years, Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are currently the only countries in the world where new polio cases are discovered.
Polio Cases Will 'Definitely Increase'
The coronavirus crisis led Pakistani authorities to stop a nationwide immunization drive scheduled for April that was intended to vaccinate some 40 million children.The campaign was seen as crucial after Pakistan recorded 147 polio cases in 2019, a sharp rise from a record low figure of 22 cases in 2017. So far this year, authorities have recorded 41 cases.The majority of the cases of polio -- a childhood virus that leads to deformed limbs, paralysis, and even death -- were recorded in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “The number of polio cases will definitely increase because we were in the middle of an anti-polio campaign when the coronavirus outbreak halted everything,” said Abdul Basit, the provincial coordinator for the National Emergency Operation Center in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.“It happened in the past and it will happen again that when children are not getting immunization, the number of cases goes up,” he said, adding that he expected it would be months before the campaign could resume.
“But right now our whole setup is engaged in efforts against the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.
Nadeem Jan, a public health specialist with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's government, said the polio campaign must restart as soon as it is safe to do so.
“The current number of cases we have is much more compared to previous years,” he said. “We fear that this number will go up as the polio drive is halted due to the coronavirus situation.”
Jan said all polio-eradication programs have been suspended until May 31.
“We don't see a chance for an effective countrywide anti-polio campaign until June,” he said. “A wide-ranging campaign is urgently needed.”
Change Of Duties
Pakistan employed tens of thousands of health workers who went door-to-door to administer anti-polio drops and educate communities that were reluctant to immunize their children.
Now, those same workers are helping a national effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“My duty has now been changed to tracking coronavirus cases,” said Shakeel Khan, 33, a polio worker in the northwestern Khyber tribal district. “We are monitoring people to see if they show symptoms of the coronavirus,” he said. “We monitor who comes into the district. We are meeting local mullahs and tribal elders to advise them about physical distancing and how they can reduce the chances of being infected.”
But Pakistan’s redeployment of health workers to fight the coronavirus could come at a cost.
Ten polio cases have been recorded since the coronavirus outbreak in March, said Khan.
“Polio cases have already increased since the coronavirus outbreak,” he said. “It will keep increasing in the next two to three months if the polio campaign does not restart.”
The coronavirus is only the latest obstacle keeping Pakistan from eliminating polio.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a poor and religiously conservative region that was once a stronghold of militant groups like Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.Many residents of the province, which lies along the porous border with Afghanistan, have been suspicious of the polio vaccine, with conservative Islamic clerics and militants claiming it is a Western conspiracy to harm or sterilize children.In April 2019, a vaccination drive in the province was thwarted after a mass panic was created by rumors of children fainting or vomiting after they were immunized.As the rumors spread, thousands of panicked parents rushed their children to hospitals in the provincial capital, Peshawar, forcing the health facilities to declare emergencies. The rumors turned out to be wildly exaggerated.Public-health studies in Pakistan have shown that maternal illiteracy and low parental knowledge about vaccines -- together with poverty and rural residency -- are the factors that most commonly influence whether parents vaccinate their children against the polio virus.anti-vaccination propaganda has also been fueled by a distrust of Western governments who fund vaccine programs, including after the CIA reportedly staged a fake hepatitis-vaccination campaign in 2011 to confirm the location of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- living in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad -- where he was killed by U.S. SEALs.
Since then, some clerics have even issued fatwas saying that children who become paralyzed or die from polio are "martyrs" because they refused to be tricked by a "Western conspiracy."Pakistani militants have also propagandized that Western-made vaccines contain pig fat or alcohol, which are both forbidden in Islam.Militants in Pakistan have kidnapped, beaten, and assassinated dozens of vaccinators or their armed police escorts in recent years in a bid to stop local anti-polio campaigns.
BY AMMAR ALI JAN
Pakistani authorities made a bad start to the coronavirus response, using the crisis to push through an IMF agenda of hospital privatization. Faced with protests by health professionals, the government immediately opted for repression — showing that it considers health care for the masses mere unnecessary spending.
Pakistan registered its highest single-day increase in the coronavirus cases with 1,952 new infections and the death toll in the country jumped to 432 with 47 fatalities recorded in the last 24 hours.
Pakistan on Saturday registered its highest single-day increase in the coronavirus cases with 1,952 new infections, taking the total number of Covid-19 patients to 18,770, officials said.
The death toll due to the viral infection jumped to 432 with 47 fatalities recorded in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of National Health Services said.
As many as 4,715 patients have been recovered, it said.
A record number of 1,952 Covid-19 cases were registered in the last 24 hours, the ministry said.
Officials, however, said the spike in the Covid-19 cases is not surprising as it is due to the increase in the coronavirus tests.As many as 193,859 tests have been conducted so far, including 9,164 in the last 24 hours, they said.A 26-year-old female doctor died from the coronavirus at Rawalpindi's Holy Family hospital. The hospital's medical superintendent said that the young doctor had complained about mild flu and cough symptoms on April 20 which the doctors declared as "normal fever".When her condition worsened after four days, she was brought to the hospital. She was put on a ventilator but died on April 30.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza told reporters that Pakistan is increasing its testing capacity.
He said the coronavirus is still under control in the country and the death rate due to the disease is also lower.
"Pakistan's death rate is still less than the projected numbers and secondly when we see the worldwide situation, it is far less than that. If you take care of yourself, it is guaranteed that you and your family will stay safe," he said. Of the total 18,770 cases, Punjab registered the highest number of 6,854 followed by Sindh at 7,102, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 2,907, Balochistan 1,136, Islamabad 365, Gilgit-Baltistan 340 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) at 66, the health ministry said. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday launched the second phase of the cash program for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Khan said he is personally monitoring the distribution of the corona relief fund to ensure transparency "So far Rs 81 billion have been distributed to people...I am personally monitoring this process," he said, launching the second phase of the Ehsaas cash scheme. The first phase was launched last month. A fund of Rs 144 billion has been set aside for the scheme.
Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar told media that as part of the measures initiated for businesses facing the heat of the pandemic, the government will pay three-month electricity bills for firms whose consumption is between five and 70KW per month.
Some of the other measures include reducing the interest rate and "unprecedented tax incentives for the construction sector".
The government would also bring an interest-free loan scheme for small businesses, Azhar said.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant on National Security Moeed Yusuf has said that some influential people coming from abroad were escaping the mandatory testing and quarantine procedures.
"We want all Pakistanis to return as soon as possible but in a safe manner. We cannot have them coming back and infecting their loved ones, which is why we cannot give any exemption to anyone for coronavirus testing," he said.
Yusuf said the repatriation process of Pakistanis from abroad is slow because the country's "quarantine facilities can take 7,500 to 8,000 people at a time". Another reason, he said, is that most airports and flights across the globe are not functioning.