COVID-19 in Pakistan: Why is the opposition blaming PM Imran Khan?

Pakistan’s opposition parties blame PM Imran Khan’s government for being ‘confused’ and ‘incompetent’ to combat COVID-19. As the death toll is steadily increasing in the country, will the government face a serious legitimacy crisis? An important report for all those interested in understanding the government’s response to the deadly pandemic.

COVID-19 in Pakistan

The government is facing some tough questions as raised by the opposition in the wake of COVID-19 in Pakistan. During an emergency session of the Senate on Tuesday, Sherry Rehman, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Parliamentary leader in the Senate, pointed out that the top leadership is sending ‘confused’ messages regarding the lockdown situation. Ms Rehman also lamented over the fact that Prime Minister Imran Khan did not attend the session to explain his government’s position to combat the deadly pandemic outbreak.

As of Wednesday, Pakistan has reported 32, 979 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 733 deaths as a result of the virus.

Addressing the House, opposition leader in the Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq said that the government should have taken a lead in summoning an in-person session, but the opposition had to requisition it. The session was called by the chairman senate to deliberate on the rise of COVID-19 in Pakistan.

“During such times, opinion is sought from the institutions such as the Parliament,” he said. Mr Haq also lamented that the government, instead of consulting the opposition to find solutions against the pandemic, did not bother to even approach them.

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PPP’s Parliamentary leader in the Senate repeatedly asked “Where is the prime minister? Who is running the country?” she said, adding that the premier is ‘missing’ these days. She was of the view that the premier must have attended the session so that the opposition could have been brief as to what the government was up to.

Political analysts also believe that the government has generally remained ‘confused’ when it came to combat COVID-19 in Pakistan. Daud Khattak, a political commentator, believes that: “The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year. In Pakistan, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on February 26. Since then, Pakistan’s central government has failed to announce a clear strategy on whether the country is going into a lockdown or staying open. Rather, the response to one of the most important issues in recent decades remained confused.”

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Umair Jamal, a correspondent for The Diplomat, based in Lahore, noted that: “The federal government’s lack of will to lay down a clear national strategy has created rifts among the central and provincial governments. Khan’s ministers have been accusing the provinces of not handling the crisis aptly while the provinces blame the federal government for not cooperating or supporting them adequately. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United Nations (UN), has recommended that “Khan’s policy decisions should be guided by the evolving medical science on the pandemic by giving a lead role to medical specialists who understand this, not generalist bureaucrats.”

Foreign Minister Shah responded to Opposition

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also addressed the House, where he responded to the criticism, saying that there was no ‘confusion’  to deal with COVID-19 in Pakistan as stated by Senator Sherry Rehman.

He said that the policy is clear and the national strategy has been devised, adding that Sindh’s input is a part of the policy regarding the pandemic. “There is an impression being given that the only solution to the coronavirus is imposing lockdown but it is incorrect,” he opined.

FM Qureshi, in response to questions regarding the premier’s absence, said that PM Imran is in Islamabad and chairs a session daily on the virus-related issues. However, the clarification seemed unconvincing.

Read More: Politicians could not unite against COVID-19

It is worth noting that the Prime Minister announced Corona Relief Tiger Force and Corona Relief Fund along with a multi-billion package involving relief for labor and underprivileged class, the business community, and industries and farmers in order to combat the COVID-19. Apart from the IMF, WHO and some world leaders praised Pakistan’s ‘wise’ and ‘timely’ response to the pandemic.

However, Pakistan’s central government remained indecisive whether it should impose lockdown or not. The premier appeared to be uncertain even after ordering smart lockdown across the country. “We do not have an economy like Germany or Italy,” said the premier, “therefore, we cannot afford a complete lockdown.”

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