Troops deployed to fight virus

Published March 24, 2020
Gen Bajwa says nothing can defeat a responsible, determined nation as centre okays summaries from AJK, GB and Islamabad. AFP/File
Gen Bajwa says nothing can defeat a responsible, determined nation as centre okays summaries from AJK, GB and Islamabad. AFP/File

• Centre okays summaries received from four provinces, AJK, GB and Islamabad
• Bajwa says nothing can defeat a responsible, determined nation

ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Monday ordered deployment of troops and military’s medical resources to fight Covid-19 alongside the national health infrastructure after the Ministry of Interior approved the summaries it had received in this regard from the provincial governments over the past two days amid surging number of patients infected with novel coronavirus.

“Despite heavy troop deployment along the western border and the Line of Control, the army chief has directed deployment of available troops and all medical resources according to the requirement,” said Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar in a televised statement.

The announcement was made after the federal government sought deployment of the armed forces in all four provinces, Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir under Article 245 (functions of the armed forces) of the Constitution and Section 131(A) (power to use military force for public security and maintenance of law and order) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Separate notifications were issued by the interior ministry for the four provinces, the AJK, GB and the federal capital.

The deployment of troops has been decided when the pandemic has already entered the critical phase of local transmission with the tally of confirmed cases in the country nearing 900.

Under the deployment plan, the role of troops is apparently meant for enforcing the restrictions introduced by the federal and provincial governments to contain further spread of the virus.

Gen Iftikhar in his statement emphasised that the restrictions would be fully enforced in cooperation with civilian administration.

Under government directives, schools, malls, cinemas, marriage halls, restaurants and swimming pools will remain closed and no religious or political gatherings will be allowed. Public transport too will not be allowed to ply on the roads except for goods truck carrying food items.

The restriction on international flights, the military spokesman said, would remain in place till April 4.

The DG ISPR said the days for opening of fuel stations and wholesale vegetable/fruit markets (mandis) would be notified by the respective provincial administrations.

Only hospitals, pharmacies, retail stores, pharmaceutical industries and factories producing food items will be open.

Emphasising the enormity of the challenge, Gen Iftikhar said: “Nothing similar had been witnessed in our lifetime.” He called for cooperation, discipline and trust in the state efforts.

Military personnel to donate salaries

The military spokesman said Gen Bajwa would donate his one month’s salary to the government’s emergency fund, whereas officers in the ranks of brigadier to lieutenant general would donate their three days salaries, officers up to the rank of colonel two days of salaries and junior commissioned officers and soldiers would contribute their one day salary.

Earlier, the ISPR in a statement on a special meeting of the Corps Commanders on Covid-19 held on Sunday evening said: “All available troops of Pakistan Army and its medical resources across the country have been tasked to be ready to assist activities in concert with civil administration on short notice.”

“Forum reviewed countrywide spread of Covid-19 and deliberated army’s readiness to assist civil administration to contain the pandemic,” the ISPR further said about the meeting.

The statement on the meeting was issued by the military’s media wing well after Sunday midnight. It was the first time that the top military command met exclusively on an aggravating health crisis. In contrast to the regular monthly meetings, this one on Covid-19 was held through video conferencing with commanders participating from their respective corps headquarters. The COAS chaired the session.

Participating in the conference, Gen Bajwa said: “Nothing can defeat a responsible and determined nation. Pakistan Army being part of national effort shall serve and protect the nation as a sacred duty InshAllah”.

The same message was reflected in Gen Bajwa’s March 23 message, which was tweeted from ISPR’s official account. “Pakistan Resolution Day symbolizes struggle for Pakistan. While paying glowing tribute to our ancestors, we reaffirm our resolve and commitment to defeat all challenges including Covid-19 pandemic with Faith, Unity and self-discipline,” the army chief said.

The previous corps commanders’ conference, which was held on March 12, too, had coronavirus pandemic on its agenda. The commanders had then reviewed the preparations undertaken by the army to deal with what was then an emerging crisis. Gen Bajwa had on that occasion directed gearing up of preparations to support the national effort.

The army chief has since then participated in the National Security Committee on coronavirus and attended the meeting of the national committee on Covid-19, which includes a number of army officers including Surgeon General, Director General Military Operations, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations, and a representative of Inter-Services Intelligence.

Orders passed under Article 245

According to the orders, which were passed by the interior ministry under Article 245 of the Constitution and Section 131-A of the CrPC, sufficient strength of army troops is to be made available and the requirement is to be worked out by the respective governments in liaison with the army authorities in connection with the prevailing situation related to the spread of Covid-19 and other ancillary matters.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2020

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