PM Imran goes offline without listening to opposition leaders

In address to parliamentary party leaders Imran calls for unity; Shehbaz, Bilawal walk out in protest

PM Imran Khan. PHOTO: PTI

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday urged the political leadership in the country to stay united and continue discussion and reassessment of the strategies to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

Addressing parliamentary leaders via a video link, Imran said that the government could not fight any challenge alone but it could win the challenge with collective efforts of the nation. “Only the nation can defeat coronavirus, no government can fight it alone,” he said.

The government did not have a “hard and fast solution” to the problem but was fully cognisant of the pandemic and had taken a number of steps in coordination with the provincial governments, Imran told the participants.

Requesting the political leadership to give their input and suggestions, Imran said that the government would review the situation arising out of the lockdown in the National Coordination Committee meeting on Thursday (today).

Imran went offline without listening to what the opposition leaders had to say in response. This prompted Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to walk out of the meeting.

Sharif later tweeted that he was “disappointed by PM’s intentional absence from the meeting of parliamentary leaders. It seems he is still not ready to listen to the Opposition & the whole country just saw the seriousness of its Chief Executive. I was left with no option but to walk out in protest.”

The prime minister started his speech by saying that it was not possible to rationally judge the repercussions of decisions taken under fear or panic. He stressed that the decision of imposing the lockdown would need to be continuously reassessed.

He pointed out that the lockdown was initially started by shutting schools and gatherings but the provincial governments took it to a step further and banned public transport as well.

“We should not go ahead with the transport lockdown because it will cause severe problems on the supply side,” he said, adding that imposing a nationwide lockdown would be detrimental to the country’s economy and result in increased poverty.

He said decisions made in haste were harmful, and stressed that the coronavirus situation was different in every country. “They [other countries] are making the best decisions on their own account and we are trying our best to take the best decision in the interest of the people in view of the day-to-day changing situation,” he said.

He said the government’s primary responsibility was towards the doctors and nurses, who were performing their duties in difficult conditions. “The world is facing shortages of protection gear but our friend China is providing essential goods to Pakistan on a priority basis,” he said.

PM Imran also revealed that a volunteer force was being raised which would be responsible for delivering relief goods to the people in case the country goes into a curfew-like lockdown. Also, he added, a special fund will be set up for collecting donations from Pakistanis in the country and abroad.

During his speech, Prime Minister Imran pointed out that the government decision not to bring back students from Wuhan, where coronavirus first emerged in December last year, was a “tough but good” decision as not even one COVID-19 case was brought from China.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while addressing the concluding session of the meeting, said that the government was fulfilling its obligations in coordination with provincial governments, however, added that a positive criticism would help it deal with the situation in even better way.

He told the participants that the Chinese leadership acknowledged the help Pakistan extended during the whole crisis, thus they have wholeheartedly extended help to the government of Pakistan in terms of equipment, medicines and other supplies required to fight this pandemic.

In his opening remarks earlier, National Assembly Speaker Assad Qaiser, who chaired the meeting, opined that coronavirus pandemic had posed a serious threat to the health of people across the globe besides inflicting serious dent to the world economies and Pakistan was no exception.

The speaker said that the purpose of the parliamentary discourse was to brainstorm and forge policy guidelines for the government to tackle the pandemic and its aftermath. He appreciated the steps taken by the federal and provincial governments and the governments of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan for the affected people, and measures to contain the spread of the disease.

The meeting was attended by federal ministers Asad Umar, Sheikh Rashid, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pervaiz Khattak, Dr Fehmida Mirza, Minister of State Ali Muhammad Khan, Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwala, Leader of the House in Senate Shibli Faraz, Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, MNAs Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Nawabzada Shahzain Bugti, Shahida Akthar Ali, senators Mushahidullah Khan, Anwarul Haq Kakar, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi, Usman Kakar, Aurangzeb Khan, Sitara Ayaz, and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman.

The participants were given a briefing on the situation arising after the coronavirus and the economic challenges facing the country. The participants had a general consensus that the fight against coronavirus could be won through collective efforts.

They were of the view that doctors and paramedics were vulnerable as they were on the forefront; therefore, they must be equipped properly. They also suggested taking care of the vulnerable and marginalised segments of society through social protection schemes by the government.