How Pakistan's ISI is tracking coronavirus patients

WION Web Team New Delhi May 28, 2020, 09.25 PM(IST) Edited By: Palki Sharma

Coronavirus in Pakistan Photograph:( Reuters )

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Pakistan has been struggling to come up with a cohesive national strategy to control the virus.

PM Imran Khan once famously called the Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI) agency of Pakistan the country's first line of defence.

Now, the agency will be the first line of defence against the coronavirus. The Pakistan government has authorised the intel agency to keep an eye on coronavirus patients. The ISI is using secretive surveillance technology to track coronavirus patients.

It is a technology which it usually uses to locate terrorists, however, details about the secretive project have not been officially released but some ISI officials have leaked the information to certain news agencies.

The ISI is using geo-fencing and phone-monitoring systems to track patients and people who they came in contact with. Phone monitoring system is self-explanatory, geo-fencing on the other hand is a discreet tracking system that alerts authorities when somebody leaves a specific area.

Pakistan says it has resorted to these methods due to a lack of awareness among its citizens who are fleeing hospitals or flouting self-isolation rules. As per reports, Imran Khan himself has praised the programme.

A programme which has come up against little public debate or scrutiny by Pakistan's citizens. According to a senior security official these methods are now being used quite effectively. 

The ISI and the Pakistan army already wield considerable influence over many aspects of cultural and political life in the country. They have been repeatedly accused of backing insurgents and hiding them. 
 
In fact, human rights groups in Pakistan fear that the ISI will use the sweeping surveillance powers to trace political dissidents, some ex-Senators too have raised their voice against the practice like Afrasiab Khattak of the Awami National Party.

"The task of tracking and tracing the patients and suspected cases should be dealt with by provincial governments and local communities, let intelligence agencies do their actual job," Khattak said. 

The fact is Pakistan has been struggling to come up with a cohesive national strategy to control the virus. Imran Khan showed reluctance in imposing a sweeping lockdown, he argued that the country could not afford it and gave in to Pakistan's powerful religious lobby and did not shut mosques.

Now with no solution in sight, he is turning to the Pak army and the ISI - the two organizations infamous for their track record on human rights abuses.

There are already numerous reports of how they have used the coronavirus distraction to target dissident leaders and activists. 

The ISI has been accused of carrying out coordinated attacks on Baloch activists during the pandemic. On May 1, prominent Baloch journalist Sajid Hussain was killed mysteriously in Sweden, the next day, Arif Wazir, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz movement was shot in south Waziristan.

Two other student activists Ihsan Baloch and Shahdad Baloch were also killed in Pakistan in the same week. 

The coronavirus may have slowed down the country's economy but it has certainly not slowed down the Pakistan deep state.

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