KARACHI/LAHORE: Opposition parties as well as those in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led ruling coalition at Centre on Tuesday called for devising a national action plan with mutual consultation so that all political forces could jointly fight the battle against coronavirus.
While several opposition party leaders attempted to avoid publicly criticising the federal government for trying to take a solo flight, they regretted that Prime Minister Imran Khan failed to show leadership at the critical moment of the nation’s history.
At a multiparty conference, which was organised on the call of Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and connected more than 15 leaders from different cities and reporters from all parts of Pakistan through multiple digital media platforms, it was agreed that the “quick and consensual action” was needed to deal with the massive challenge arising out of the Covid-19 situation.
Bilawal and Shahbaz jointly moderate multiparty meeting
The MPC was jointly moderated by the PPP chairman and opposition leader in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif.
Those who participated included Chaudhry Pervez Ilahi of the PML-Q, Sirajul Haq of Jamaat-i-Islami, Hasil Bizenjo of National Party, Akhtar Mengal of the BNP, Aftab Sherpao of QWP, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Faisal Sabzwari of the MQM, Mian Iftikhar of the ANP, Abdul Ghafoor Haidery of the JUI-F and PkMAP Senator Usman Khan Kakar. PPP’s Murad Ali Shah, Raja Parvez Ashraf, Sherry Rehman and Farhatullah Babur, and Ayaz Sadiq and Marriyum Aurangzeb from the PML-N were also present.
While talking to reporters after the hours-long conference, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “The prime minister should understand that he is not the prime minister of Islamabad alone. All the political parties, even those in partnership with the government in the ruling alliance, agree that there should be a national action plan from the government to meet the challenge of the coronavirus. Today’s conference shows the willingness of all political parties. It could have been called by the PM, but unfortunately we haven’t seen yet anything from the government to build national consensus.”
Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidery of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and Mian Iftikhar Hussain of the Awami National Party (ANP) were critical of the federal government’s way of dealing with the situation but they appreciated the policies of the PPP government in Sindh and asked the opposition parties to devise their own strategy to build national consensus instead of relying on the leadership of PM Khan.
While assuring his support to the opposition parties despite being a PTI-led ruling coalition partner, the chief of his own faction of Balochistan National Party (BNP) Akhtar Mengal said Pakistan could not afford any disagreement among political forces at this crucial time and “appealed” all leaders to keep coordinating with each other frequently.
The idea was also supported by Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Senator Siraj-ul-Haq who suggested that meeting of the political leaders should be held through the same mode of communication every week so that the parties could learn from each other experiences and contribute in their strongholds.
He also appealed to the people (in self-isolation) to observe Youm-i-Dua (day of prayers) on Thursday night and Yaum-i-Tauba (day of seeking forgiveness) on Friday to seek Allah’s mercy.
In reply to a question about the options of the opposition parties in the “worst case scenario” if the government remained unmoved despite repeated demands from the political forces for a coordinated national action plan, the PPP chairman said that the democratic norms demanded that political forces keep playing their due role.
“We believe that the financial stimulus package announced by the government to deal with the adverse impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the country’s economy is not enough. They need to review it as well. But it will all happen when the government prepares a national action plan with the consultation of all political parties,” said Mr Bhutto-Zardari.
The PML-N president, too, was of the opinion that a national action plan should be prepared in consultation with the opposition to tackle the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking at a press conference through a video link on Tuesday, the opposition leader who recently returned from London after nearly four months asked the PTI government to slash interest rate by three to four per cent allowing it to make Rs80bn fund available for the fight against coronavirus.
Mr Sharif said the government should reduce petrol prices to Rs70 per litre. “Such a step will provide massive relief to the people and bring down inflation. The POL prices are at its historic low in the global market and the government will not suffer any loss if it reduces the prices,” he added.
“I ask the prime minister to convene the meeting of CCI (Council of Common Interests) to map out a shared and nationally owned anti-corona strategy. I also demand that a National Task Force represented by all political parties should be constituted immediately. At the same time I consider bringing politics into the national fight a sin. While we acknowledge and appreciate government for good work, it is equally important to highlight the failures. Taftan is one such example of bad management that caused increased Covid-19 footprint in Pakistan,” he said.
Mr Sharif said his party would donate 10,000 protective kits to the medical association, but the government needed to look for all possible sources for equipment, testing kits, and protective gears on a war-footing basis.
“A big salute to the medical fraternity members who are putting their lives on the line to treat the ailing humanity and they are our heroes and benefactors. We cannot thank them enough for their courage and sense of sacrifice. In order to rid our medical professionals waging this fight against Covid-19 of any financial worry, the government should immediately double their salaries so that they can exclusively focus on the job at hand,” he suggested, adding separate health facilities instead of general hospitals should be dedicated for corona patients or else all the efforts to contain Covid-19 might become counterproductive.
He said the government should make Covid-10 testing free of cost as the less privileged could not afford the costly test.
In addition to some Rs14bn procured from Baitul Maal, he said the government should consider deferring the payment of utility bills to the extent of Rs5,000 if it could not waive them of. “At the moment, such households are not in a position to pay gas/electricity bills. Similarly, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) system can be used to register the poorest of the poor in cities for the provision of financial assistance until the end of this scourge. The funds at the disposal of Baitul Maal can also be used for this purpose. So far BISP is serving around 5.4 million households. If the poverty scorecard is made flexible, it can lead to the inclusion of three to four million more poor families.”
Mr Sharif said the government should make public a comprehensive plan for the provision of food to the vulnerable sections of society during lockdown. He said his party lawmakers and workers would also be active in their respective constituencies.
He appealed to the people to observe extreme precaution and stay indoors as it was the only way to guard themselves against Covid-19.
Mr Sharif said the media had been raising awareness and prevention campaigns regarding Covid-19. “I would ask the Prime Minister to collaborate with all the media, without any bias, to make the awareness campaign more result-oriented.” He also asked the PM to secure the bail of editor-in-chief of Jang group Mir Shakilur Rehman to make the Covid-19 awareness campaign more result-oriented.
Earlier, political parties attending the MPC appreciated the initiative of the PPP chairman and the PML-N president to formulate a national response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Both leaders welcomed participants to the video-conference, and after Mr Sharif’s remarks, asked Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah to brief the meeting about the national steps needed for the fight ahead.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2020