Sindh, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan refuse to allow volunteers to operate in their jurisdictions
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday ordered special assistants Sania Nishtar and Usman Dar to formally commence the work of the Corona Relief Tiger Force from next week. The volunteer force, however, will only operate in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, as the remaining jurisdictions have branded it a politically motivated move.
Addressing a press conference, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Youth Affairs Dar said that the Corona Relief Tiger Force would officially commence work after a personal address by the prime minister via social media. He urged administrators in Sindh, Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan to allow the Relief Force to CRTF to carry out its designated activities within their respective jurisdictions, warning that if the federal government did not receive a positive response by Monday, Khan would issue a personal decision on how they would be utilized in these three areas.
The Sindh government had earlier said that it would not allow any interference in the work of local governments or bureaucracy by unelected volunteers. Provincial Education Minister Saeed Ghani told daily Dawn that any volunteers were free to operate without requiring governmental approval. However, he said, the provincial government would not allow any political party to interfere in the domain of the local administration and bureaucracy. He questioned how the PTI would react if the PPP asked its workers to monitor and supervise such activities in provinces ruled by the PTI.
Additionally, Ghani told Dawn, the Sindh government could avail the services of volunteers of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority and the Youth Parliament if it felt a need for additional aid.
According to Dar, the Force’s responsibilities would include ensuring the implementation of the 20-point guideline for congregational prayers in mosques during Ramzan, as well as supervising Utility Stores across the country. The government had already announced that the Force would monitor hoarding, artificial inflation and violation of social distancing guidelines, as well as aid local administration in ration distribution, public announcements and preparations for funerals, and raising awareness about the novel coronavirus.
He said the Force had been operationalized in his hometown Sialkot a few days ago as a “test run,” and three volunteers had been deployed at each mosque to ensure implementation of the agreed guidelines during prayers. He said there were 3,000 mosques in Sialkot district and their help was vital in ensuring they were all monitored.
He said the volunteers would also help maintain social distancing among buyers at all Utility Stores in Pakistan, and would monitor the availability of items subsidized by the government. They would also, he said, identify unemployed laborers to ensure they received financial assistance under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program.
The Corona Relief Tiger Force, per the government’s official tally, currently boasts 993,294 volunteers from across Pakistan. The largest number of volunteers is from Punjab (647,459), followed by Sindh (155,312), then Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (142,441), Balochistan (14,954), Islamabad (14,062), Pakistan-administered Kashmir (12,279), and Gilgit-Baltistan (6,391).
According to Dar, the 993,294 volunteers are comprised of more than 300,000 students; 133,000 social workers; 50,000 doctors; 40,000 teachers; and 17,000 health workers.
Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the formation of the Corona Relief Tiger Force on March 27, claiming the youth would help fight the ongoing pandemic because they were less vulnerable to the virus. Opposition forces have slammed it from the start, claiming it is a political gimmick and would operate as a personal army for Khan that was not acceptable to rival groups. Khan has denied these claims.