Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 56, 25 March 2020

Pakistan: The Centre and Provinces differ in fighting the Coronavirus
Lakshmi V Menon

In the news

As of 25 March 2020, Pakistan has 1016 confirmed coronavirus cases, of which 413 are from Sindh, 312 from Punjab, 115 from Balochistan, 78 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 16 from Islamabad. Eighty-two cases have been confirmed in the two Kashmiri entities under Pakistan control. The deaths tally is seven. 

However, measures taken by the Centre and provinces in battling the spread of the pandemic are incongruent. While provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan have declared lockdowns of varying degrees, the federal capital Islamabad has no lockdown. All provincial government offices, private offices, and factories, exempting those dealing with daily essentials have been shut. However, federal government institutions such as NADRA, Passport office, banks, Steel mills, TDAP, Pakistan stock exchange, aviation, and Foreign affairs continue to operate.

Issues at large

On 21 March, Sindh was the first province to go into a complete lockdown for 15 days. On 22 March, Balochistan soon followed Sindh’s lead with more or less similar restrictions and exemptions for ten days. On 23 March, Punjab synchronized its efforts with the above provinces and declared a lockdown. KP, however, announced a ‘public holiday’ from March 24-28. While Sindh and Balochistan have more or less identical directives. Punjab deviates by allowing government offices and food takeaway joints to function.

However, Islamabad Capital Territory has limited efforts to a partial closedown of shopping malls and markets with no inter-city and intra-city travel restrictions. Pharmacies, groceries, and auto-workshops were advised to remain open, while restaurants were allowed take-away and deliveries. 

In perspective

Simply put, considering the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, while the latter is in a state of a complete shutdown with travel restrictions, Islamabad requires its workers to come from Rawalpindi. 

Such contradictory and incongruent laws absolve the objective/purpose of the lockdown or social distancing. Congruent and synchronized efforts by federal and provincial governments are necessary to tackle COVID-19. Considering the novel virus’ proliferation rate, every minute matters in countering the pandemic. 

Even with Pakistan crossing the 1000 infection mark, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan maintains that homegrown cases are limited. Nevertheless, despite refraining from a national lockdown, on 23 March, Pakistan approved the provinces’ request for military deployment to aid civilian administration in battling the pandemic. A national lockdown is imminent.

Meanwhile, provinces are blaming the Centre of underplaying the number of cases and severity of the outbreak; quarantining of pilgrims at Taftan is becoming a menace; domestic pressure for repatriation of Pakistani students from China is mounting and Pakistan has sought loan repayment waivers, medical equipment from China along with aid from US to bolster rapid response and monitoring to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

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