By Jai Kumar Verma
New Delhi. 28 April 2020. In what seems like a distraction from the failure of the government to combat COVID-19 in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan as always has resorted to firing from India’s shoulder. Islamabad has moved LY-80 strategic missiles at the outskirts of Lahore which is less than 23 K.Ms. from Indian borders. The missiles are moved near Indian borders just to detract attention of masses from government failure to handle coronavirus. And what better distraction than danger from India !
Pakistan’s all weather friend China is responsible for the spread of coronavirus pandemic and to help it’s ally has sent a Chinese medical team presided by Major General Huang Qingzhen on April 24. The team will stay for about two months and will guide Pakistan to overcome the epidemic. China’s ambassador in Pakistan also stated that China has already donated $ 4 million to Pakistan to build a quarantine hospital in Islamabad and China also donated around 150,000 test kits, more than 3 million medical masks, 500,000 N 95 masks and about 200 ventilators so far.
Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson also extended thanks to China for sending the relief. Besides Chinese government private Chinese enterprises are also donating money and material. The spokesperson also mentioned that the projects of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be completed as per schedule. However, she also mentioned that 55 people had tested positive in J&K.
Dr. Ma Minghui the head of the Chinese team visited Pakistan also mentioned that, “In Pakistan, one out of every 10 person tested for COVID-19 up till now has returned a positive report. This is much higher than Xinjiang, where only one in 100 people tested for the virus reported positive.” She also warned that the outbreak of epidemic would be disastrous as Pakistan is fighting without specific data. The public is uncooperative, and the medical staff has also insufficient safety kits.
It is also claimed that in hospitals and graveyards, coronavirus is not mentioned as the cause of death hence the real number of deaths because of Covid-19 will never come out. The only solution to ascertain the number of deaths because of coronavirus is that in all hospitals dead or near-death patients should be tested for coronavirus and death certificate should mention the cause of death clearly. Murad Ali Shah Chief Minister of Sindh was also apprehensive that death from coronavirus are much more and in many cases the cause of death is mentioned “pneumonia-like symptoms” while the real cause may be Covid-19.
According to a Gallup International Snap Poll conducted in March 2020, 43% of Pakistanis admitted that they have not taken any precautionary measures to protect themselves from coronavirus yet. The government authorities are also relaxed, as about 250 pilgrims returned from Iran on 29 February were permitted to leave Taftan Corona Quarantine Centre before the completion of mandatory 14 days. Same way more than 1000 pilgrims also returned from Iran on 20 March were tested negative because of poor testing kit though several of them were coronavirus infected. They met freely while in Taftan as well as later when released.
There is acute shortage of protective equipment for medical staff including doctors. When medical staff protested in Quetta, they were lathi-charged. The medical staff is reluctant to serve the coronavirus patients without proper safety kits. The Islamic fundamentalism initiated by General Ziia-ul-Haq to strengthen his regime, has reached to the point where clerics and devotees have refused to obey the government orders and insisted to attend Friday prayers in the mosques. Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid in Islamabad defied government order and insisted that he will lead the prayers. The inside pictures of Lal Masjid show the assembly of large number of people despite the lockdown. Not only this on 4 April several Ulemas made it clear that daily prayers including Friday prayers would continue unabated. Ulemas also insisted that the only way to do away with the virus is to do more prayers in the mosques.
The holy month of Ramadan started from 24 April and will end on 23rd May and during the month there will be more gathering in mosques, more get-togethers for Sehri and Iftars. President Dr. Alvi issued a 20-point programme under which most of the demands of clerics were accepted. President suggested few precautions which were not accepted by the clerics. Several Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia banned the congregational prayers in mosques, but Pakistan had to yield in front of clerics and congregational prayers in mosques were allowed. Pakistan has taken a big risk as this may enhance the cases of coronavirus.
Pakistan’s foreign minister in a telephonic conversation with Dr. Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen Secretary General of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation also told that because of continued restrictions in Kashmir there is the danger of spread of coronavirus in J&K.
The coronavirus pandemic which has traumatised the world and in which more than 200,000 persons have already lost lives and many more are expected to die reached Pakistan on 26 February 2020 when a student who returned from Iran tested positive in Karachi. The coronavirus spread rapidly and by 18 March it reached in all the four provinces, the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and in Islamabad. On 25 April 2020 the number of coronavirus cases reached to 12,723 while 269 persons died. Although the highest number of cases were recorded in Punjab which has the maximum population, but more deaths happened in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because the medical facilities are very less in comparison to Punjab which is the dominant province in Pakistan. The government announced lockdown and it was extended until 9th May. Initially a federal government report mentioned that by 25 April there will be 50,000 cases of coronavirus but the number was contained to 13,000 only. The analysts claim that the number was less because of lack of testing facilities.
The religious congregation of Tablighi Jamaat held at Raiwind Lahore in early March 2020 was also responsible for the quick spread of coronavirus. Pakistan started vaccine trials for coronavirus in collaboration with a Chinese pharmaceutical company namely Sinopharm, however the research facility in Pakistan is so primitive that it is not able to invent anything new so far hence to expect that it will invent the vaccine before U.S.A., Japan and other countries is difficult to believe.
The spread of coronavirus is so rapid that it is difficult for most of the countries to control it however it has become much more difficult for Pakistan because of its poor health facilities. Large number of Pakistanis still go abroad for treatment and there is virtually no doctor in remote areas. Imran Khan and Asad Umar Minister for Planning and Head of National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) warned that the situation will become precarious and the pressure on hospitals will increase manifold. Even at present the number of coronavirus patients is increasing rapidly although the testing facilities is limited in the country. It indicates that very soon the number may enhance where it will be very difficult to control the pandemic. Murtaza Wahab the spokesman of Sindh Government stated on 7 April that “Pakistan’s got its 1st COVID-19 patient on 26th February. We got our 1,000th patient in 29 days: the 2,000th patient in 7 days, 3,000th patient in 5 days and probably the 4,000th patient in 3 days. This is how serious the situation is”. The testing facilities are so limited that only 55,000 could be tested out of the population of 220 million from February to mid-April 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic may prove an economic disaster to Pakistan which is already suffering from several economic troubles. On 2 April government of Pakistan announced that the country lost Rs.2.5 trillion due to coronavirus epidemic and according to the estimates of Ministry of Planning 12.3. million to 18.5 million people become jobless due to the pandemic. Director-General of World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that “The impacts on the economy could be devastating, doubling the number of people living in poverty” while WHO presaged that if effective measures were not taken more than 200,000 people would suffer from coronavirus by mid-July.
Pakistan government announced an economic package of $8 billion and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is trying to trace persons who are suffering from coronavirus. However instead of total lockdown Pakistan has imposed ‘smart lockdown’ under which some industrial and commercial activities are allowed.
Imran government is failed to handle the spread of coronavirus because of its faulty policies, opposition by fundamentalists and lack of medical facilities. If due precautions are not taken during the month of Ramadan the pandemic may be out of hand. Government instead of talking about Kashmir should focus all its energies in combating coronavirus which may be disastrous for the country.
Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. He is also member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at email@example.com)