MonitorsPublished on Apr 28, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII; 17

Pakistan: On Covid steps, Imran gives in to radical mullahs

Ayjaz Wani

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a high-level government meeting on 21 April, decided to allow congregational prayers at mosques during the holy month of Ramadan amid Covid19 pandemic outbreak. The decision was taken under tremendous pressure from radical clerics, mullahs and persons from different politico-religious ideologies included in the proscribed AhleSunnat Wal Jamaat.

This pronouncement to allow congregational prayers came after mullahs served an open ultimatum on the government and wilfully violated the ban on the congregations at mosques across the country. Three cases were registered against Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid for violating the ban on Friday congregations. A person related to Aziz was also booked for displaying arms. However, none has been arrested so far.

The decision to allow prayer congregations during Ramadan comes even as 27 percent (2,258) of the positive Covid19 cases in the country were found to be related to a religious gathering in Raiwind, which had  around 70,000 persons. It is indeed shocking that at a time when Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait have banned congregations for five daily prayers, as well as Friday prayers, Imran Khan meekly gave in to these radical mullahs, putting the lives of his countrymen in danger. In fact, Saudi Arabia has even suspended the special tarawih prayers for the Ramadan month at the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) and the Prophet’s Mosque (Masjid al-Nabawi) to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Religious endorsement

The coronavirus has forced almost all countries to enforce severe lockdowns, strict social distancing and other harsh measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. Most other Muslim countries, including Pakistan, also introduced lockdowns to ensure social isolation, the remedy to stop the rampant spread of the virus.

The government also issued lockdown orders and imposed restrictions on daily as well as Friday prayers. As per the lockdown order, all four provinces and the capital administration limited the number of people to five in mosques to curb the spread of the pandemic. The curbs on the gathering of worshippers were endorsed by the country’s highest religious committee, namely, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), on 2 April.

The CII, in a press release, even advised the government to seek the cooperation of the local mullahs so that "they become a part of the government campaign to prevent the coronavirus by adopting safety precautions". Furthermore, some of the religious organisations like Darul Afta Pakistan, Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) and the leadership of Wafaq-ul-Masajid, Madaris-e-Pakistan also endorsed the government orders in accordance with  the Shariat and Sahih Bukhari (saying of the last Prophet).

Despite such support, government agencies failed to implement the order. Out of the four provinces, only Punjab and Sindh implemented the lockdown and suspended Friday congregations. The order was flouted in Karachi and most other major towns. In Sindh, 88 cases were registered and 38 prayer leaders were arrested for violating the orders. However, all the charges were subsequently dropped and the mullahs were released under the directions Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah.

Lal Masjid and lockdown

Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, known for its anti-government ideologies, has for years become a hub of radical mullahs. In 2007, the mullahs, with the help of gun-wielding men, abducted Chinese girls who ran a beauty parlour. As the news of the abduction spread, China forced Pakistan to act against the seminary at Lal Masjid. The government responded by launching military ‘Operation Sunrise’, in which the masjid’s deputy Imam Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed.

The Lal Masjid episode inspired several terror groups to wage global jihad. Within six months of the ‘Operation Sunrise’, more than 40 terror leaders – who held sway over 40,000 militants – gathered in Waziristan on 14 December 2007 and they formed a united front -– Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) –- vowing to avenge the killing of Ghazi.

The military action against Lal Masjid also became the rallying cry of Imran Khan-led TTP, then in the Opposition, to fight the establishment. The resulting acts of terror resulted in the  death of 1,188 persons and injuries to 3,209 in 88 bombings in just one year after the Lal Masjid siege. After the ‘Operation Sunrise’, the government has repeatedly tried to control the affairs of the shrine, but failed miserably.

Covid19 has once again exposed the widening rift between the radical religious organisations like the one in Lal Masjid and their parochial leaders and the government. Maulana Abdul Aziz has blatantly defied government directives and deployed armed men outside the complex to ensure that the prayer congregations – held despite the ban – were conducted without any disruption.

Similarly, 53 other senior radical mullahs from Rawalpindi and Islamabad representing different politico-religious ideologies, including the proscribed AhleSunnat Wal Jamaat, warned the authorities against the restrictions on the congregations in mosques. They said the lockdown is not applicable to mosques and congregation prayers.

‘Independent nation’ theory

As the decision to roll back the ban on prayer congregations came under criticism, Imran Khan came up with a rather naïve justification for the same. The Prime Minister said the congregations will be organised under the strict standard operating procedures (SOPs), framed by the government in consultation with the Mullahs. He warned of strict action if the SOPs were not followed. When pointed out that even Saudi Arabia has cancelled large gatherings at the two of the most revered Islamic shrines, Imran Khan said that Pakistan was an “independent nation” and had the freedom to decide in the best interests of its citizens.

The dangerous decision to allow mass prayer congregations has once again exposed the government’s weakness against the might of the radical religious forces. By giving in to pressure from terror masters like Abdul Aziz, who don the mask of a mullah, Imran Khan has also exposed the real intentions behind the recent removal of 4,000 terrorists from its  watch-list without any public explanation.

Bangladesh: Covid19 badly impacts garments industry

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

The readymade garment (RMG) industry, which has been pivotal in the economic growth of Bangladesh, is facing an uncertain future following the Covid19 pandemic.  The industry, which is the world’s second largest exporter of readymade garment, is now staring at a loss of nearly $6 billion following the cancellation or suspension of orders by its buyers.

The cancellation of orders was the result of the lack of demand from the US and European markets, following the closure of hundreds of shops, owing to the pandemic-centric lockdown. The RMG exporters have sought the cooperation of the global community to save the country’s primary industry and the labour force.

Bangladesh’s RMG sector started facing obstacles much earlier than the world. The initial challenges were related to sourcing of the raw material following the suspension of economic activities in China as the virus spread in that country. The industry relies heavily on China for its raw materials. This is also a significant portion of Bangladesh’s billions dollar imports from China. The diversification of supply chain and the opening of the economic activities in China now has resolved the raw materials issue. However, then came the cancellation of orders, which is now threatening the survival of the sector.

According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), orders for over 900 million pieces of garments worth $2.9 billion had already been cancelled or were being held up. The Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), another prominent body of the country’s clothing industry, has claimed that more than $3 billion has already been lost as most of the orders until July has either been cancelled or suspended.

Biggest export product

RMG accounts for almost 84 percent of all the exports. It is valued at $34 billion. The RMG sector is a product of the government’s 1974 industrialisation policy which emphasised on export-oriented industrialisation. The RMG sector was especially encouraged because of its low capital cost as well as the faster returns.

Today, the RMG sector is considered to be the backbone of the country’s economy. It has been a prominent factor of its economic success story. The country is now recognised as one of the fastest-growing economies of the world with a GDP of more 7 percent and it is expected to become the next Asian giant.

The success of the RMG sector has a trickle-down impact on the socio-economic life of the country and it had touched millions of lives. RMG is the largest private sector employer, with around four-million people being  involved in this sector. Women comprise two-thirds of the work-force in this sector and are the biggest beneficiaries, helping in their empowerment.

Massive job-loss

Any disruption in the RMG sector therefore will upset the economic growth of the nation and hamper the socio-economic gains attained in all these years.  The fall in the demand has already resulted in massive job-losses. It is feared that it may increase poverty in the country.

In March, the government had announced a $500-million bail-out package exclusively for the garment industry. Later, the government  announced another $8 billion stimulus package for all  industries, a large portion of it being earmarked for the garment and related industries. Also, the Bangladesh Bank, the country’s central bank, has adopted an industry-friendly policy and declared that none of the factories will be considered defaulter until June.

These steps by the government are encouraging as it provides cushioning  time to the industry to absorb the initial shocks. However,  these measures are for the short-term and does not provide permanent alternatives. Sustenance of the sector requires long-term measures and the stimulus cannot provide the solution.

Of the 47000 manufacturing units in the country, a significant number of them are involved with the garment industry. According to the BGMEA, the industry needs Taka 4000 crore monthly for salaries and wages alone. So, the stimulus package could keep the factories floating around for a few months only.

Innovation is the key

The future of Bangladesh’s RMG sector is intertwined with the resumption of economic activities in the Europe and the US, and a surge in demand. Since these countries are still struggling to contain the spread of the virus and the number of infected persons and deaths are rising, the potential for them to revive their own economy seems to be bleak in the near future.

Industry analysts feel that the RMG sector will have to wait a while to overcome the current crisis. In the absence of a vaccine to curb the pandemic, strict preventive measures like restrictions on economic and social activities and social distancing will continue to remain in force, limiting their economic activities to bare minimum. Shopping for clothing will have to wait.

Additionally, there is an increasing fear about automation in the industry to reduce human interface in the production in the post-Covid19 world. In such a scenario, the question that arises is whether buyers will be interested in sourcing products from Bangladesh, which is labour-intensive, or will prefer to buy those products from the nearer shores.

In the post Covid era, innovation is the alternative to navigate the challenges faced by the Bangladeshi garment industry. One possible option could be deepening the e-commerce for marketing RMG products. Besides, emphasis should be given on developing Bangladesh’s own brands so that it reduces the industry’s dependence on the international buyers for selling its product.

Country Reports


Taliban rejects President’s ceasefire appeal  

On 23 April 2020, on the eve of Ramadan, President Ashraf Ghani appealed to the Taliban for a ceasefire, citing growing concerns about the rapid spread of the coronavirus. The Taliban rejected the offer yet again, stating the refusal of the government to comply with their prisoner release terms, as the primary reason for rejection. Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen announced the group’s stand on a potential ceasefire, calling the idea “irrational” and “unconvincing” given the fact that thousands of their fighters continued to be exposed to the risk of contracting the deadly virus in prisons.

New Covid19 cases

With 106 new coronavirus positive cases reported on 23 April 2020, the total number of cases has reached 1,281, as informed by officials from the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). Out of the new cases reported, 21 have been found in the province of Herat, 53 in Kandahar, 15 in Kunduz, 10 in Jawzjan, and 6 in Kabul, among others. According to MoPH figures, so far 42 people have succumbed to the virus, while 180 have recovered.


Seeks loans from global agencies

The government has requested for $2.4 billion loan to various global lending agencies for supporting the financial stimulus packages announced to tackle the economic slowdown induced by the Covid19 pandemic.   The government had sought low-interest loan from organisations like World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Islamic Development Bank and International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation. Earlier, the government had declared around $8 billion Covid19 stimulus package for the industrial sector and welfare of the people to tackle the loss of lives and livelihood of the people in the country.

Thousands break Covid19 norms

Defying the government’s order of social distancing, hundreds and thousands of people attended the funeral of a popular religious preacher in a village in Brahmanbaria, a district in east-central Bangladesh. Already, around 4000 people are infected in the country. The health minister has accused the district administration of negligence for their failure in controlling the gathering.

Restrictions on Tarabi prayers

A total of 12 devotees, including the imam, will be allowed to offer Tarabi prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. The step was taken in an attempt to ensure social distancing to prevent the spread of the Covid19 pandemic. Tarabi is a special prayer performed by Muslim devotees during the month of Ramadan.

Dip in revenue

The flow of remittances is likely to dip by 22 percent due to outbreak of Covid19 that has adversely impacted the global economy, according to the World Bank. The Bank in its report “The Covid19 crisis through a migration lens”, observed that the country’s remittances could come down to Taka 1400 crores in 2020, which was around Taka 1830 crore in 2019. Remittances are a major source of revenue for the country.


Seven Covid19 cases

The latest case of COVID-19 was detected on 23 March in a 24-year-old man who returned from the Gulf region, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the country to seven. The man was kept under quarantine at Paro and is now moved to an isolation facility in Thimphu. Meanwhile, the fourth COVID-19 patient in the country has recovered and has been sent home. And the three cases in de-isolation having tested negative twice in 24 hours are stable and recovering. So far, all cases are imported and the country is still in the orange zone.

Four test positive overseas

The number of Bhutanese who tested positive for COVID-19 in New York has moved up to 10.  Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji said the government is  aware of six COVID-19 positive cases through the mission in New York and as per the news reports, the number is 10. Of them, two have recovered, two are at home and rest six are in isolation at the house provided by His Majesty. Apart from the 10 cases in New York, there is one Bhutanese student in Czech Republic who has recovered, one youth in Doha and a girl in Mumbai, who are all being taken care of by the local authorities.

Medicines from Bangladesh

The Ambassador of Bangladesh to Bhutan handed over 1.5 million multivitamin tablets to the Gyalpoi Zimpon on 23 April. The vitamins were offered by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to His Majesty The King. The vitamins will be distributed to the elderly across the country to help boost their immunity.


Partial relaxation

The Central government has allowed all the standalone and neighbourhood shops in the locality to open from 25 April. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs in its order has categorically specified that all shops in the marketplace and the shopping malls would still remain closed. The order also clarified that restaurants and salons would also continue to remain closed during the course of the lockdown.

Congress attacks Govt

The Opposition Congress Party has criticized the central government for ineffectively managing the crisis and excessively burdening the states to entirely tackle the crisis. Congress President, Sonia Gandhi wrote to the Prime Minister last week urging his government to provide relief to the large number of small and medium sized enterprises who have been badly affected by the lockdown.

Militants killed in Kashmir

Two militants and their “associate” were killed by the security forces in the Pulwama area of Kashmir, the Kashmir police said. “The identity of the militants was not immediately disclosed. The security forces were carrying operation against the militants since last week.


Covid19 cases on the rise

With a total of 36 Covid19 cases identified in capital Male, the national figure has crossed the 140-mark, with authorities cautioning against further spread as and when the current lock-down ends by month-end. The Islamic nation also commenced the annual fasting month of Ramzan, and officials have commenced cargo flights from the capital to atolls for delivering supplies of essential food items and medicines. The Government also cleared a total of 711 foreigners, most of them migrant labour from South-East Asia and Italy, to return home by evacuation flights.


Covid curfew till 18 June

As per a recent directive, an existing 10 pm-4am curfew imposed in all 45 townships of Yangon Region will remain effective until 18 June. The announcement was made under the instruction of the Yangon regional government. In the original 18 April announcement of the curfew, the authorities did not include duration and so a time period has been added. In addition to this the State Counsellor has decided to extend the rules and directives issued by the National Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19 disease from 30 April to 15 May as of now. Stricter measures are said to be drawn as the number of cases increases in the nation.

Bangladesh rejects Rohingyas

Bangladesh has decided not to accept the two boats carrying hundreds of reportedly starving Rohingya refugees. The new controversy over stranded Rohingyas blew up just a week after dozens starved to death on a boat that was left at sea for two months before it could land. Activists are fearful that large numbers of Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority from mostly Buddhist Myanmar, may be trapped on boats and unable to reach other countries. Amidst the growing fear of COVID – 19 other countries have denied access to such people in their land.


Oli meets Deuba

Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli had a special meeting with former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is also the leader of the main opposition -- Nepali Congress. In the meeting, Deuba expressed his satisfaction over the withdrawal of two ‘controversial ordinances’ -- Political Parties Act, 2017 and Constitutional Council (Works, Duties and Procedure) Act, 2010. The two also discussed the various measures taken by the government for the Covid19 pandemic.

Covid cases up

The cases for corona virus have increased. Now the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to 49 as on 24 April.  12985 people have been quarantined, while 89 are in isolation. Situation is steadily moving towards the worst. Whether the country is ready to provide medical facility is the real question.


US promises support

US President Donald Trump had a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Imran Khan on 22 April. Both leaders discussed challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on the global economy. Imran Khan during the conversation highlighted the efforts of Pakistan to deal with the pandemic crisis and the economic challenges faced by his country. Trump assured Imran Khan every possible support during the pandemic, especially for the supply of the much-needed ventilators as well as other economic help. Both leaders also discussed certain regional issues like Afghan peace process and its importance.

Appeal for $ 595 m help

The Covid19 pandemic has worsened Pakistan’s economic crisis, forcing Islamabad to make an international appeal for funds amounting to $595 million. The fund appeal was made in collaboration with the United Nations. Pakistan has requested bilateral and multilateral partners for help to curtail the short-term and long-term impact of the pandemic on its health and socio-economic sectors. The World Bank immediately announced a $240m package, while the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is considering an emergency loan of $300m for Pakistan.

Sri Lanka

Poll-talk takes front seat

With the number of Covid19 victims in the country crossing the 400-mark, and no seeming immediate let-up to the pandemic-spread, the nation’s attention is increasingly reverting to political discourses about the advisability of holding the parliamentary polls on 20 June, as re-scheduled by the Elections Commission (EC), from the earlier 25 April. The EC has said that they will reconsider the need for further postponement after consulting medical experts, closer to the new date of polling. A constitutional crisis may be brewing after some Opposition parties wanted President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to reconvene the dissolved Parliament under specific provisions of the Constitution, while the Government side is insistent on early polls, with no scope or need for such a course.

On-line memorial service

One year after the Easter blasts last April, the nation remembered the victims amidst the continuing Covid19 pandemic crisis. Archbishop of Colombo, Malcom Cardinal Ranjith, called upon the victims’ families to pray for the departed souls in their homes, with some churches hosting on-live memorial service. Cardinal Ranjith as also Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa reiterated that the previous Government was responsible for the blasts, for their failure to act on the Indian intelligence alert. Both President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary, Maj-Gen Kamal Gunaratne (retd), declared that such episodes would not be allowed to repeat.



Opinion Pieces

Timothy P. Carney, “Our Veterans Want Us To Stop Making More Afghanistan Veterans”, Washington Examiner, 23 April 2020

Tameem Akhgar, “Ventilator From Old Car Parts? Afghan Girls Pursue Prototype”, The Diplomat, 20 April 2020


Afghanistan Times, “Harsh Blow”, 22 April 2020

The Kabul Times, “Time for Political Unity”, 18 April 2020


Opinion Pieces

Sabiha Haque and Samira Marzia, “A blueprint for covid19 preparedness in Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 23 April 2020

Anand Kumar, “Will pandemic derail Bangladesh’s economic growth”, The Diplomat, 18 March 2020


Opinion Pieces

Tenzing Lamsang, “On NPL, Interest Waivers and Rents”, The Bhutanese, 18 April 2020

Sonam Tshering, “How can we get back our fundamental rights from COVID-19”, Kuensel, 18 April 2020


The Bhutanese, “Clarity and equity”, 18 April 2020


Opinion Pieces

Madalsa Singh and Aniruddh Mohan, “Covid-19: India needs a green economic stimulus”, Hindustan Times, 24 April 2020

Anushree Sinha and Rajesh Jaiswal, “Positioning panchayats as India’s agents of change”, Hindustan Times 24 April 2020

Prakash Nedungadi, “When your private space is actually a public space”, Hindustan Times, 23 April 2020

Krisna Kumar, “The village is still relevant”, The Hindu, 23 April 2020

M Govinda Rao, “The key strategy is fiscal empowerment of States”, The Hindu, 22 April 2020


 The Hindu, “No 100% quota: On overzealous reservation”, 25 April 2020

The Hindu, “Rapid failures: On antibody testing kits”, 24 April 2020

Hindustan Times, “Towards a more insular world”, 24 April 2020

The Hindu, “Script of unity: On coronavirus and social prejudices”, 23 April 2020

The Hindu, “Economy in lockdown: On India’s worst case scenario”, 18 April    2020

The Hindu, “Helping a lending hand: On RBI’s second lockdown stimulus”, 18 April 2020


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Amidst worsening Covid19 crisis, ISIS ‘claims maiden attack”,, 24 April 2020


Opinion Pieces

Nan Lwin, “In Myanmar, Concerns That China’s Help on COVID-19 Comes With Strings Attached”, The Irrawaddy, 24 April 2020

Nyein Nyein, “In Western Myanmar, State Counselor’s Praise for Tatmadaw Causes Unease”, The Irrawaddy, 23 April 2020

Joe Kumbun, “In Myanmar, Tatmadaw and Arakan Army Caught in Thucydides’ Trap”, The Irrawaddy, 20 April 2020


Opinion Pieces

Sandeep Thapa, “Controlling COVID-19”, Republica, 24 April 2020

Gokarna Awasthi, “Reviving the world after Covid-19 crisis”, The Kathmandu Post, 24 April 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Undermining Loktantra”, 23 April 2020

The Kathmandu Post, “Some relief package”, 23 April 2020


Opinion Pieces

I A Rehman, “Ramazan anxieties”, Dawn, 23 April 2020

Khurram Husain, “Lockdowns unravelling”, Dawn, 23 April 2020

Talat Masood, “A challenge to leaderships as never before”, The Express Tribune, 22 April 2020

Inam Ul Haque, “Resilience of Pakistan — beyond self-floggingThe Express Tribune, 23 April 2020


The Express Tribune, “Disregarding precautions”, 24 April, 2020

The Express Tribune, “Trump’s election stunt”, 23 April, 2020

The Express Tribune, “Doctors’ concern”, 24 April, 2020

Dawn,The primary dilemma”, 24 April 2020

Dawn, “Stark warning”, 24 April 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

D B S Jeyaraj, “Politics of postponing parliamentary polls amid a pandemic”, Daily Mirror Online, 25 April 2020

Krishantha Cooray, “The 1918 flu and pandemic de javu, The Island, 22 April 2020

Priyan Dias, “Remembering Easter 2019”, The Island, 21 April 2020

Jehan Perera, “Speaking up for the dead who cannot demand justice”, The Island, 21 April 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Poll heading for a ‘political stalemate’?”, Colombo Gazette, 20 April 2020


Easwaran Rutnam, “NEC Chairman continuing as one-man Commission: Hoole”, Daily Mirror Online, 25 April 2020

Meera Srinivasan, “South Asia requires a humanitarian response to Covid19 pandemic: Ranil Wickremesinghe”, The Hindu, 24 April 2020

Easwaran Rutnam, “Legally, old Parliament can now sit: Sumanthiran”, Daily Mirror Online, 24 April 2020


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani

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