PPP Senator Sherry Rehman on Tuesday lambasted Prime Minister Imran Khan for his absence during a Senate session to discuss the coronavirus situation in the country.
The Senate session was convened for the first time since the pandemic after a requisition was submitted by opposition members. Speaking during the session, Rehman severely criticised the government's handling of the pandemic, saying that the premier had been giving out confusing messages.
She questioned what the poor people the premier had talked about would do amidst the pandemic, warning that the country would run out of healthcare resources if the number of cases spiked.
Rehman said the government did not have a "national message" and questioned the premier's absence in both the NA as well as Senate sessions on Covid-19.
"I want to talk about missing persons today. The missing person is the prime minister. He is missing, his policy is missing, his words of unity are missing," she said during the session as she moved on to question: "Where is the PM? Who is running the country?"
Rehman said provinces were receiving the message that they were "on their own" after the 18th Amendment. She lashed out at the federal government for "creating distractions" by criticising the 18th Amendment and said that while the amendment had given provinces autonomy, it did not mean they were on their own.
"Provinces are not on their own. The provinces are self-sufficient but they are not the state," she said, adding that there was a feeling of abandonment in provinces as all governments were adopting separate strategies.
She also criticised the Centre for comparing Pakistan's situation to that in Italy, UK and the US. She termed the current health crisis a "situation worse than war" and said that the government was not ready to sit and discuss a policy to deal with the disease.
"Why are you telling us what happened in Italy? They made mistakes. We cannot make mistakes, we can learn," she said.
The PPP leader said that the government had created confusion by pitting "lives versus livelihood", adding that there was no choice in reality.
"Lives always come first!" she said, adding that the government should focus on saving lives first and then take decisions about the kind of lockdown it wanted to enforce.
Rehman said there had been reports that the government was moving towards herd immunity and criticised it for doing so.
"The UK went for herd immunity, look at their number of deaths now. Look at what is happening in the US," she said, adding that Pakistan could not cite European countries as models for dealing with the pandemic.
'PM is in Islamabad working against the virus'
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi responded to criticism from opposition benches in Senate, saying the prime minister was in Islamabad and was working day and night to fight the war against Covid-19.
He also negated Rehman's claims that the government did not have a unified policy, adding that the prime minister held meetings with provincial chief executives every day and heard everyone out before finalising a strategy.
"There is no confusion, the policy is clear," he said. "A national strategy has been created and they (opposition) have a hand in formulating it, we value their input."
Responding to criticism over lifting of lockdown, he said that a lockdown was a "temporary solution" and was meant only to flatten the curve.
"The real solution is a vaccine but that will take time. Until the real solution comes, we have to see how we can control the spread of the virus."
The minister criticised the opposition for blaming the government for the delay in calling a National Assembly session.
He said that the session was delayed because consensus could not be reached with the opposition since many members were against the holding of a session. Even the deputy chairperson of the Senate, a prominent leader of the PPP, was against the idea, Qureshi said.
"First develop consensus within your own ranks," he added.
Qureshi criticises PPP for 'provincialism'
Qureshi also criticised the PPP for its "provincialism" and rejected claims that the Centre had not left Sindh on its own.
"This is not the PPP of the past, which was a symbol of the federation. Today, I sense the roots of provincialism in the party," the foreign minister said.
"Sindh is ours. Sindh's capital is ours, even now people of Karachi support PTI and our allied party MQM," he said, and told PPP senators to "get ready" as the PTI would also make inroads in Sindh "just like we did in Punjab and KP".
Qureshi also denied the premier had ever said that a lockdown in the country was enforced by the elites.
"What happens in politics is that sometimes you are quoted out of context," Qureshi said. "PM did not say elites enforced lockdown, I shall clarify."
The foreign minister went on to claim the PM had meant that while the upper class could afford to survive easily in a lockdown, the poor and daily wagers could not afford that luxury.
Qureshi then went on to warn that the pandemic would lead to a recession.
"The world is saying this. The global economy is going to contract by 3 per cent. It amounts to trillions of dollars and it will have a huge impact on Pakistan," he told the Upper House.
"Our exports have decreased by 40pc. There is a danger of layoffs [of Pakistani labourers] in Gulf states, remittances might go down by 20 to 23pc."
Qureshi appreciated Opposition Leader Raja Zafarul Haq for talking about Kashmir and the impact of the coronavirus on the people of the occupied valley.
"The situation in Kashmir is very serious. They were already under siege with a communications blackout. Amid the coronavirus crisis, Indian premier Modi's government instead of helping [Kashmiris] started entering their homes on the pretext of coronavirus.
"They enter their homes and kill them and then do not return the bodies to their families so that people cannot gather to protest." He added that he had written letters to the foreign ministers of all Muslim countries and had brought it to the attention of the United Nations Security Council.
Qureshi also criticised the opposition for implying that the federal government had replaced Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) with the Ehsaas Programme.
He said that the scope of BISP was limited and the government had expanded it by introducing the Ehsaas programme. "BISP covered 4 million people while Ehsaas covers 12 million. Please do not try to fool people," he said.
He further said that the government subsidised 19 items for utility stories and pointed out that Sindh will also benefit from the move.
Graveyards don't have an economic wheel: Musadiq
PML-N's Senator Musadiq Malik echoed Rehman's words and said that by lifting the lockdown, the government was moving towards "herd immunity".
Herd immunity is developed when a large number of people from a population develop antibodies against a virus and, therefore, become immune to it.
"It means that after 60-70pc are infected and many people are dead, those who have survived will turn the wheel of the economy. But graveyards do not have an economic wheel," he told the Senate.
Malik recommended that the government divide the entire country into zones and conduct rigourous testing in the most-affected areas. He said that there could be three zones — the green zone where economic activity could be resumed, yellow where there could be a "relaxed lockdown" and red zones which wold be put under quarantine.
Centre cannot go on 'solo flight'
Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan said that the government cannot go on a "solo flight", adding that no country in the world had shown such "non-seriousness" in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic as Pakistan.
He said that the quarantine centres in Taftan were not camps but "barns".
He also criticised the federal government for creating confusion by giving "mixed messages". He said that on March 22, the prime minister had opposed the lockdown but "the same day, a lockdown was enforced in Sindh and Gilgit Baltistan."
He lambasted the government for its meagre financial assistance provided to lower-income people, saying that Rs3,000 was not enough for a family to buy basic supplies that would last a month.
"I ask the government to show me any family whose monthly groceries can be bought in Rs3,000," he said, adding that the government should give a minimum of Rs17,000 per month to families whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic.
He also suggested that the government do away with interest so that people could borrow loans easily from banks.
"If you abolish interest on loans, businessmen will take loans and your economy will get a boost.
"You cannot build the State of Madina by broadcasting the Ertugrul show," he said.
Ertugrul is a Turkish serial based on stories of the Muslim Oghuz Turks, fighting invading Mongols, Christian Byzantines and the fanatic Knights Templar Crusaders in Anatolia (now modern-day Turkey) of the 12th century.
A dubbed version of the show is currently being aired on Pakistan Television Network on the prime minister's recommendation.
'Govt should have taken strict measures when first case emerged'
PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi expressed regret that the government did not take strong enough measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
He said that the government should have restricted entry into the country "whether it was via Taftan or airports" when the first case was reported.
"The measures you are taking now should have been taken when the first case was detected," Abbasi said.
He further said that the reason the virus spread among the pilgrims who came through the Taftan border was poor quarantine camps put up by the government. The senator noted that people were bundled together in tents instead of being separated which led to a rise in infections.
He criticised the government for lifting the lockdown at a time when the virus was spreading at a faster rate while expressing concern that the country's healthcare system would not be able to cope with an increasing number of cases.
'Condemn statements that Covid-19 was developed in Wuhan lab'
PML-N Senator Raja Zafarul Haq condemned statements implying that the novel coronavirus was developed in a lab in Wuhan.
He also thanked China for its assistance to Pakistan at this crucial time, saying that the country was still supporting Pakistan by sending equipment and medicines.
The Senate session was adjourned until Thursday.