–PM says he refused to impose strict national quarantine keeping in view economic fallout of such a decision
–Says Pakistan had to face a lot of ‘humiliation’ despite supporting Washington in ‘war on terror’
ISLAMABAD: Rejecting the notion that the federal government was following a “confused” and “lethargic” approach to the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said if there was any government in the world “that was not confused as to how to tackle the pandemic, it was Pakistan’s”.
Main opposition parties including Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have time and again accused the prime minister of sending “mixed signals” which, in their opinion, deteriorated the situation in the country.
Addressing the National Assembly, Prime Minister Imran said that there was “a lot of pressure” on him to impose a strict quarantine. “Even in my own cabinet, people wanted a more severe lockdown to be imposed […] We put up with a lot of criticism,” he told the House.
However, the premier said, there was no confusion. “We’ve had daily meetings and taken decisions,” he said, adding that his team considered all the people in the country and how the lockdown would impact them.
The prime minister, despite being pressed to impose a strict national quarantine, had refused to oblige, citing economic fallout of such a decision. “A lockdown will result in people dying of hunger,” he had said in one of his many post-pandemic public appearances.
Imran, who in his pandemic-related addresses has always painted a rosy picture despite the fact that the crisis has hit the country hard, once again sought to calm the nation, saying “if we can get past this month without numbers escalating, the worse could be over”.
“I want to tell my nation that we’re facing a difficult situation. We need to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) properly to defeat coronavirus.
“This next step is critical because we have two paths before us; if we take precautions, then God willing our facilities are enough to cope with it [the outbreak],” Imran said, warning that negligence could make matters worse.
He said that it is the government’s duty to make people realise how important it is to save the elderly and those with comorbidities. “We have people sitting here [in the House] who have recovered, but for those with weakness and illnesses, it can be life-threatening,” he said.
Addressing the opposition benches, he challenged their lawmakers to “point out one statement that had inconsistency” since the lockdown was first announced on March 13.
“I constantly talked about two things: if you have the population of Singapore, if you have $50,000 per capita income [and] if you have natural social distancing, then curfew is the way to go.
“But i also talked about how the restrictions would impact the poor people based on our conditions,” he added.
Recalling that the government did not have any data on available ventilators and intensive care staff initially, Imran lauded the National Command and Operation Centre for collecting all the information on a daily basis and looking at trends with expert help due to which “our decision making was free of inconsistencies”.
‘NEXT PHASE IS DIFFICULT’:
Reiterating the “destruction” a sweeping lockdown could cause to a country, Prime Minister Imran said: “India’s reports are in front of the world … figures show that 34 per cent people have been steeped into poverty. Their hospitals are facing difficulties; they are full.”
He said the government had opened the construction sector first and now the whole world was saying that “there are more negative effects of lockdown as compared to its impact on controlling the virus.”
At the same time, the premier told the nation that they have a “very difficult situation” in front of them.
“The next phase is difficult because we are trying to make people understand why following standard operating procedures is so important,” he said, adding that the virus spreads when there are clusters.
Imran also said that his government is going to implement a uniform education system from March 2021.
He said the 2.5 million students at religious seminaries would be brought into the mainstream. “These students would be imparted world education as well,” PM Imran said.
The prime minister urged the provinces to contribute to the development of merged tribal districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said his government was making all efforts for developing the country.
“FATA and Balochistan are being paid their complete share from the budget despite the government having less money,” PM Imran said.
He reminded the provinces of their commitment to provide funds for the development of KP’s merged tribal districts from the National Finance Commission award.
The prime minister said he had already mentioned that the measures taken by the Indian government would have serious consequences.
He said New Delhi was trying to destabilise Pakistan. “We are up against a Hindu supremacist, fascist and Nazi-inspired ideology,” he said.
PM Khan said they want the Kashmir issue to be resolved through dialogue, but India’s mindset is something else.
Narendra Modi’s arrogance increased manifold after he won the election in India, he said.
PM Khan said the way his government highlighted the Kashmir issue after August 2019 that has never happened before.
Prime Minister Imran also spoke about his government’s foreign policy, starting with the country’s relations with the United States.
He said Pakistan had to face a lot of “humiliation” despite supporting Washington in the ‘war on terror’ and was then blamed for the US’s failures in Afghanistan.
Recalling the two incidents that caused “embarrassment” to Pakistan while supporting the US, he said: “The Americans came to Abbottabad and killed, martyred [al Qaeda leader] Osama bin Laden. When happened after that? The entire world cursed at us and spoke ill of us.
“So our ally comes to our own country to kill someone and doesn’t inform us? And 70,000 Pakistanis have died in their war. Look at the humiliation that caused to all the Pakistanis who were abroad.”
He said the US was carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan, which the Pakistani government at the time said it opposed. But when an American senator asked former US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen at a Senate hearing why drone attacks were being carried out despite the Pakistani government’s objection, Mullen replied that “we are carrying out the drone attacks with the permission of the Pakistani government”, Prime Minister Imran added.
He said Pakistan did not know whether it was an ally or a foe of the US in the war on terror and such incidents caused immense embarrassment to overseas Pakistanis.
Prime Minister Imran said it was his party’s “consistent” foreign policy that its government would not participate in the American war and only take part in peace talks. Today, the country’s is not fighting somebody else’s war and the relationship with the US is based on trust, he added.