Months into the initial lockdown, the Corona Relief Tiger Force has yet to make an appearance, let alone a significant one
Almost two month have passed since the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf announced a million-strong Corona Relief Tiger Force (CRTF) to deal with coronavirus-related relief and social challenges.
Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the CRTF towards the end of March when the lockdown in the country was in force and millions of workers were stranded at their homes to mitigate the spread of the virus. In a number of speeches, the PM stated that the CRTF would help the government deal with coronavirus relief efforts and help the needy in an organised and systematic way.
The registration of volunteers for the force began on March 31. The stated aim was for the nation’s youth to defeat the spread of coronavirus. By April 21, amid continuous criticism of a lack of appearance of the CRTF on ground, Muhammad Usman Dar, special assistant to prime minister on youth affairs, had claimed that nearly one million educated youth, including doctors and other professionals, had already volunteered for the force.
The CRTF, initially, was established and tested by the federal government in Sialkot, Dar’s home district. The CRTF was assigned five core responsibilities including ration distribution, implementation of the 20-point guidelines introduced by the government for prayers during Ramazan, generating awareness against coronavirus, and observing the implementation of social distancing and market timings.
On May 1, Dar again announced that the CRTF would formally become operational in three provinces — the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan — in a few days. PM Khan also issued guidelines to provincial chief ministers and chief secretaries regarding the CRTF urging the provincial administrations to expand the force and mobilise it at district, tehsil and union council levels. The PM also suggested using the force in assisting Ehsaas Labour Registration Programme.
Later, the government decided that district administrations and deputy commissioners’ offices would be engaging the force in monitoring the implementation of SOPs regarding opening of markets, mosques and public places.
Many district administrations say it would take some time for the force to be fully operational. “At the moment the force is active only in Sialkot – Dar’s hometown. They would be assigned tasks in Islamabad soon. Right now there is nothing on ground,” says a senior official at the Islamabad DC’s office. The official says nearly 14,000 people registered for the CRTF from Islamabad adding that they would be assigned duties to monitor implementation of SOPs at union council level through various committees. This, he says, is just ‘step one’ adding that in the next phase the force would be used to generate awareness.
The News on Sunday also learnt from officials that the DC’s Office had set up a non-political Islamabad Capital Territory Volunteers Task Force in 2019 and many of the members of that force were co-opted in the CRTF following meetings and briefing/training sessions.
“We have been doing relief and social work as members of the ICT Volunteers Task Force and for the past few days we have been registered as the CRTF members. However, we have been given no particular direction from the government about our role,” says Quratulain Hassnain, a member of the ICT Task Force. “We have been creating awareness about social distancing and distributing ration for the past few weeks.”
Most of the force would be operational in urban areas in the Punjab and KP and some other parts of the country. However, so far the force remains invisible.
A few days ago, Dar stated that out of the 185,000 registered volunteers about 45,000 had been assigned to perform various duties in different parts of the country, including assisting the civil administration in carrying out relief activities. The figure given by Dar is much less than the initial claim of one million registered CRTF members targeted by April 1.
Opposition parties have been quick to describe the CRTF plan as a political gimmick of the ruling PTI. The Sindh government has decided not to include the force in the relief campaign in the province.
“Ideally, the ruling PTI should have used existing and immediate government and non-government networks in relief efforts while observing implementation of SOPs rather than announcing a parallel force like the CRTF,” says Salman Abid, a political commentator with experience in social work. “So far it looks like a failed political stunt because till now we don’t see any properly defined and credible role of the CRTF on ground to combat the virus-related challenges.”