Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

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Supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) shout slogans as they block a highway during an anti-government protest in Karachi on November 14, 2019. (AFP)
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Supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) block a highway during an anti-government protest in Karachi on November 14, 2019. (AFP)
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Supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) block a highway during an anti-government protest in Karachi on November 14, 2019. (AFP)
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Residents cross a highway blocked by supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) during an anti-government protest in Karachi on November 14, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.

Related


Why India coronavirus cases are rising to multiple peaks

Updated 6 min 19 sec ago

Why India coronavirus cases are rising to multiple peaks

  • India has tallied 793,802 infections and more than 21,600 deaths, with cases doubling every three weeks

NEW DELHI: In just three weeks, India went from the world’s sixth worst-affected country by the coronavirus to the third, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. India’s fragile health system was bolstered during a stringent monthslong lockdown but could still be overwhelmed by an exponential rise in infections.
Here is where India stands in its battle against the virus:

Steady climb, multiple peaks
India has tallied 793,802 infections and more than 21,600 deaths, with cases doubling every three weeks. It’s testing more than 250,000 samples daily after months of sluggishness, but experts say this is insufficient for a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
“This whole thing about the ‘peak’ is a false bogey because we won’t have one peak in India, but a series of peaks,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health researcher. He pointed out that the capital of New Delhi and India’s financial capital, Mumbai, had already seen surges, while infections had now begun spreading to smaller cities as governments eased restrictions. The actual toll would be unknown, he said, unless India made testing more accessible.

John Hopkins University graphic

Dubious data
The Health Ministry said Thursday that India was doing “relatively well” managing COVID-19, pointing to 13 deaths per 1 million people, compared to about 400 in the United States and 320 in Brazil. But knowing the actual toll in India is “absolutely impossible” because there is no reporting mechanism in most places for any kind of death, said Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist at the Christian Medical College in Vellore who has been advising the government.
Official data shows 43% of the people who have died from the coronavirus were between the ages of 30 and 60, but research globally indicates that the disease is particularly fatal to the elderly, suggesting to Muliyil that many virus deaths among older Indians “don’t get picked up” or counted in the virus fatality numbers.


“No central coordination”
In India, public health is managed at a state level, and some have managed better than others. The southern state of Kerala, where India’s first three virus cases were reported, has been held up as a model. It isolated patients early, traced and quarantined contacts and tested aggressively. By contrast, Delhi, the state that includes the national capital, has been sharply criticized for failing to anticipate a surge of cases in recent weeks as lockdown measures eased. Patients have died after being turned away from COVID-designated hospitals that said they were at capacity. It led the Home Ministry to intervene and allocate 500 railway cars as makeshift hospital wards.
But as the capital rushes to conjure new beds, officials admit that they’re worried about the lack of trained and experienced health care workers. According to Jishnu Das, a professor of economics at Georgetown University, there is “no central coordination” to move health care staff from one state to another, exposing India’s relative inability to use data to guide policy decisions.
“The one big thing that we’re learning from this pandemic is it takes any cracks in our systems and it drives a chisel to them. So, it’s no longer a crack, it’s a huge chasm,” Das said.

India’s role in global fight
India has seven vaccines in various stages of clinical trial, including one by Bharat Biotech that the Indian Council on Medical Research pledged would have results from human trials by Aug. 15, the country’s Independence Day. The top medical research body quickly backtracked, but regardless of whether India comes out on top in the global race for a vaccine, the country will play a critical role in the world’s inoculation against COVID-19.
The Serum Institute of India in the central Indian city of Pune is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. India makes about 1,000 ventilators and 600,000 personal protective equipment kits per day, according to government think-tank Niti Aayog, making it the second largest kit maker in the world after China.


The economic curve
Although Indian airspace remains closed to commercial airlines from abroad, India’s economy has largely reopened. Consumer activity has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, government data showed, and factory workers who fled cities when India imposed its lockdown March 24 have begun to return, enticed, in some cases, by employers offering free room and board.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the health crisis along with a military standoff with China over a disputed border region to rally the country around the idea of a “self-reliant India” whose home-grown industries will emerge stronger. Approval ratings that US pollster Morning Consult estimate at 82% suggest many Indians are with him, even after the hasty lockdown triggered a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of migrant workers fleeing on foot toward their natal villages, and as two top government scientists on the front lines of the coronavirus fight stepping down in recent weeks. With the coronavirus nowhere near abating in India, how Modi will fare as the toll of infections and deaths continues to rise is still unclear.