A report in The New York Times has claimed that the military “sidelined Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan to enforce a countrywide lockdown” last week as the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan worsened while the premier rejected calls from healthcare workers and provincial officials to enforce the same, saying it would ruin the economy.
“[Imran] Khan rejected calls from healthcare workers and provincial officials to enforce a lockdown, saying it would ruin the economy. Instead, he urged citizens to practice social distancing and ordered everyone back to work, many returning to the sweltering, cramped factories that are the backbone of the economy,” the report said.
It added, “Finally, the military stepped in on Sunday and sidelined Khan, working with provincial governments to deploy across the country and enforce a lockdown. They erected a maze of military checkpoints in cities like Karachi and sent baton-wielding police officers to violently disperse crowds.”
While the report suggested that the action might be too late, it is pertinent to note that governments of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab had last Sunday sought the army’s help in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, asking it to assist civil institutions as the number of confirmed cases in the country crossed 600. The requests had come a day after the Sindh government’s decision to impose a complete lockdown and seek military help under Article 245 of the Constitution.
The 18th Amendment provides the provinces with significant decision-making autonomy. While Sindh imposed a lockdown on March 23 and requisitioned the army to help carry it out, other provinces followed with varying levels of the halt.
The Interior Ministry had approved the deployment of the army across the provinces and Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar had on Monday confirmed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s directions for troops and medical resources to be deployed “as per need” in order to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Addressing a press briefing, the military spokesperson had said that the government summoned army for assistance in accordance with the constitution. “This is the time to take tough and difficult decisions on an individual, familial and societal basis.”
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