KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Saturday said the prime minister and his government had ‘sabotaged’ Sindh government efforts made to contain the coronavirus and undermined the lockdown policy through a ‘consistent campaign of misinformation’ only to save businesses, leaving the country to suffer massive losses on both fronts — health and economy.
The federal government, which continued to deny the importance of lockdown despite repeated demands of doctors all in the name of saving the livelihoods of poor people, had hastened to throw thousands of Pakistan Steel Mills employees out of job amid the pandemic, said Mr Bhutto-Zardari while addressing a press conference at the Sindh Assembly’s auditorium hall along with Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and other members of his cabinet.
Terming the massive retrenchment amid pandemic “against human values”, the PPP chairman said the Sindh government with the consent of the provincial governor had done legislation to secure people’s employment at least during the Covid-19 crisis. He vowed to challenge the decision at every forum.
The federal government could not abdicate itself from its responsibilities by blaming Sindh for all its failures, right from the handling of coronavirus to the locust attacks that could trigger food crisis, he said. It was unfortunate that a barrage of accusations was levelled against the pilot for the PIA plane crash, which claimed nearly a hundred lives, he regretted. “It’s so unfortunate it has become our sick national pastime that we always blame the victims whenever we meet any tragedy or accident,” he said.
“I feel sorry how that the character assassination was made of that courageous and professional pilot. As the federal government decides to leave people alone in the coronavirus pandemic, it came up with the same strategy for the victims of PIA crash and their families. We as a nation and also the backers of this government now must think about that how long we can tolerate this incapable government.”
• Sees plot behind ‘consistent campaign of misinformation’ • Vows to challenge massive job cuts in Steel Mills
He said: “We believe that the lockdown could have been used more effectively and it did work initially but under a conspiracy it was undermined through consistent campaign of misinformation.”
Referring to the models of New Zealand, Vietnam and Indonesia, where the same strategy against the pandemic delivered the desired results, he said: “I specially mention Vietnam because it’s the country which has no larger resources. It’s not a superpower. They came out of the crisis through immediate action and unity. These countries are now opening their businesses and reviving economy. But we have lost that opportunity. Now we would be facing both crisis – economy and the pandemic.”
Mr Bhutto-Zardari also warned of the risks ahead and shared his strategy in the PPP-governed Sindh. “What we can do now is to save maximum number of lives,” he said. “We should have policy like a toolkit as the lockdown is one of the effective tools. We believe that it can still be used. Local and larger lockdowns are still the options. Now the key policy of the Sindh government is to enhance the testing capacity. We are already building capacity of our healthcare system without any help from the Centre on a war-footing basis.
“The federal government is trying to fool people while confusing them in a number game that such and such number of ventilators and ICUs are available. We know that every provincial capital has the capacity to some extent but that figures don’t reflect the state of whole province. That point can’t be obscured by the Centre,” he said.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said then raised question about the recently-constituted NFC and warned that such move would not only affect the country’s national unity and social fabric but also send a “wrong message at a wrong time” internationally when Pakistan was facing many regional challenges.
The PPP chairman said Prime Minister Imran Khan was “an indecisive man” who always failed to rise to the occasion whether it was making strategy about coronavirus pandemic or a matter of devising policy on the Indian-occupied Kashmir.
“When the NFC was formed the Sindh government sent a letter to Islamabad raising its objection and requesting to address the issue. But you can well assess the seriousness that our May 14 letter has not been responded yet. We have serious reservations that why you have made Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir part of this Commission? They are federal territories and that why we give so much fiscal space to the Centre so it can bear the financial responsibility of these areas.
“And what message you are sending internationally when we are under serious regional challenge? Are you telling the world that Azad Kashmir is our province? Does it not make rumours true that we have already made deals over [Indian-occupied] Kashmir? We need serious and wise on these very sensitive issues. Similarly, if you want Gilgit-Baltistan to be a part of this Commission then declare it as a province through defined rules and legislation.”
Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2020